By Patrick OConnor - 02/02/06 12:00 AM EST
Whatever happens with the elections today, Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) was first.
Long before any other House Republican announced his or her candidacy for the leadership, Wamp announced his campaign for the whip post.
And while the other potential candidates spent the fall playing coy with the media and other members, Wamp was advertising his campaign out in the open.
Wamp has always spoken his mind within the conference, often to his detriment, and when former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was forced to resign his leadership post after an indictment in Texas, Wamp announced his bid for the whip post later that evening, hours after the current officeholder, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), had been promoted to succeed DeLay.
Wamp was joined in the race early last month by Reps. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) after DeLay announced he would not seek a return to the leadership. And, whatever the outcome, Wamp is glad to have thrown his hat in the ring.
“We need new leadership,” Wamp said. “Just changing direction is not enough.”
Wamp acknowledged that his campaign has been an uphill climb, particularly by announcing so early. He conceded that he might have gotten into the race a bit too early, but he is confident heading into today’s vote.
“I have a tremendous amount of momentum,” Wamp said Monday. “In the last 10 days, my campaign has caught fire.”
A number of House Republicans scoffed at his candidacy when he first entered the race; at the time, one GOP aide said, “Wamp might start the fire, but he won’t be there when the smoke clears.”
Wamp came to Congress with the historic class of 1994 and soon became a popular face of the party, but he said his early inclination toward the spotlight might have undermined his relationships with his colleagues.
“Early in my tenure here, I might have been a bit too raucous and a bit too rambunctious,” Wamp said. “I’ve moved from being a mainstream member to being more of a backbencher.”
Of that transition, Wamp said, “If you want to make a name for yourself, you have to buckle down and work.”
Wamp is looking to his classmates in that group for support in this race. He named Reps. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) and Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) as his whips, but he has not asked them to make phone calls on his behalf, LaHood said.
“He’s just a good friend,” LaHood said. “He’s a fresh new face.”
Wamp is the only candidate in the whip race that is not on the current whip team, but he is making the fact a major part of his campaign. While he lauds the vote-counting abilities of his opponents, particularly Cantor, Wamp said he could learn the job on the go. “It’s not rocket science,” he said.
He also said members of the leadership have become unduly concerned with raising money from outside lobbyists. “Our new mantra should be policy before politics,” Wamp said.
Even at this late stage, Wamp does not suggest he will topple Cantor, who claimed an early lead in the race, but he believes his candidacy will make the eventual winner even stronger.
“Should Eric become the whip, he will be a better whip because we ran,” Wamp said.