Tea party challenger enters race for majority leader

House Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is no longer the lone Republican vying for the majority leader position Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., vacated earlier this week.

Idaho’s Raul Labrador, first elected in 2010 when the tea party wave swept Republicans into power in the House of Representatives, joined the contest Friday. Labrador declared Cantor’s primary defeat to a tea party upstart Tuesday meant “Americans are looking for a change in the status quo.”

“I want a House Leadership team that reflects the best of our conference,” Labrador said in a statement. “A leadership team that can bring the Republican conference together. A leadership team that can help unite and grow our party. Americans don’t believe their leaders in Washington are listening and now is the time to change that.”

Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas dropped out of the race late Thursday night. For a few hours, McCarthy looked like a lock for the House’s No. 2 spot, but look for Labrador to make his case with the newer and more conservative members of the Republican conference.

Labrador’s entrance into the race was welcomed by tea party groups like FreedomWorks. But his bid also highlights divisions in the party over immigration reform.

Labrador was involved in bipartisan negotiations to write an immigration reform bill in the House, but dropped out of the process last year.

Ironically, in his successful primary challenge to Cantor, college professor Dave Brat, criticized his opponent as soft on immigration.

Meanwhile, McCarthy’s home district is more than one-third Hispanic, and the front-runner for the majority leader spot has supported a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.

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