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Generational battle emerges in GOP caucus leadership contest

 The race to be the next leader of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the largest conservative caucus in the House, is heating up, with two official contenders starting to take their campaigns public. 

 Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), 60, and Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.), 34, are publicly vying to replace outgoing term-limited Chairman Jim Banks (R-Ind.) as head of the nearly 50-year-old conservative caucus, which has major influence over House Republican policy. 

 In interviews with The Hill, Hern staked his campaign on a commitment to principled policy and pointed to his decades of experience in business, while Cammack focused on elevating the RSC’s profile in members’ districts and advocated bringing a new generation of leadership to the table. 

 The position has been a launching pad for many up-and-coming House Republicans. Two are currently in House GOP leadership: Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and Conference Vice Chairman Mike Johnson (La.). 

 Other former chairs of the group, which includes more than 150 members, have gone on to become national Republican figures. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) also chaired the group before helping to found the House Freedom Caucus, as did former Vice President Mike Pence.

 Hern, who is in his second House term, officially launched his campaign this week with an announcement video that praised former President Trump. 

 “President Trump’s America First Agenda gave us the greatest economy in the history of the world,” Hern said in the video. “No one will work harder to restore the conservative, America First agenda.” 

 Hern is leaning into fiscally conservative principles and talked about the importance of “conservative guardrails” for GOP policy. He is currently head of the RSC’s Budget and Spending Task Force and had a lead role in crafting the group’s sample fiscal 2022 budget, released last year, that proposed $14 trillion in cuts that could balance the federal budget in five years.  

 It’s unusual for the same person to spearhead the RSC budget two years in a row, he said, but he is planning to release a sample fiscal 2023 RSC budget in the coming weeks.  

 The caucus has “always been about conservative policy,” Hern said. “It’s about the conservative conscience of the Republican Conference.” 

 Formerly a hog farmer and an aerospace engineer, Hern went “from poverty to prosperity” as a businessman, starting with McDonald’s franchises in the Tulsa area. 

 “I spent 35 years in business and [am] a product of living in the poor side of America, coming up from really a tough environment and being able to experience the American dream,” Hern said. 

 Hern rolled out his campaign with endorsements from 37 RSC colleagues. In campaign materials, he pledged to create a messaging task force that meets on fly-in days to discuss weekly themes. He also touted offering legislation that would withhold federal funds from states that do not certify elections on time. 

 “Experience matters. Kevin is a proven leader in the business world, and he has proven himself to be a strong legislator and bridge builder in Congress,” Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) said in a statement. “He is the leader we need to pass a conservative agenda.” 

 But the policy-oriented congressman has an energetic challenger in the first-term Cammack, who says that her goal as chair would be to “make RSC a name for voters back home.” 

 “I’m going to accomplish that through taking our conservative policy agenda items, member initiatives, really drive them here on the Hill, but then craft a tiered messaging system that works for members,” Cammack said. “What we’ve seen for a long time is a one-size-fits-all approach, and that doesn’t work in today’s environment. So if you’re in an R-plus-two district, and you’re having to take a tough vote, we’re going to help you with the tools to message that vote back home.” 

 The 34-year-old congresswoman is trying to dispel any notion that her youth and first-term status are negatives, noting that she has years of campaign and policy experience through being deputy chief of staff, starting in 2013, to her predecessor, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla).  

 “We just had the ‘year of the Republican woman,’ right? And there’s only been one woman who has been in charge of RSC in its entire history,” said Cammack, the youngest Republican woman in Congress. Former Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) was RSC chair from 2003 to 2004.  

 “There’s a whole lot of talk about the next generation of leadership while the next generation is here. And we need a seat at the table,” Cammack said. 

 Cammack said she has been organizing for her run since January. A formal announcement and campaign rollout is expected soon. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), a fellow first-term lawmaker, is one of the members of her whip team. 

 “She comes here, obviously, with a lot of detailed knowledge of our process overall, having served out and worked on the Hill,” Donalds told The Hill. “I think as a member, she has, in my view, one of the highest intellects from a conservative perspective.” 

 Members will cast their votes for the next RSC chair after midterm elections, around the time of House GOP leadership elections. 

 Banks, 40, is rumored to be eyeing a GOP leadership slot in the next Congress. As RSC chair, he has expanded the group’s communication staff, sent out frequent issue messaging memos to members and the press, and created an “RSC Roadmap” newsletter covering current political news.  

 His position as chair helped raise his profile. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) picked Banks to be ranking member on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vetoed that choice, prompting McCarthy to withdraw from the committee altogether.

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