When Republicans officially take over the House of Representatives today, a small group will begin playing an influential role. It’s not the tea parties (which aren’t small). Nor is it establishment Republicans. It’s the meager Republican class of 2006.
That was a terrible year for Republicans. They lost 30 House seats. Only 10 freshman Republicans were elected, all of them from Republican-held seats. The 2010 election, in contrast, produced 87 Republican freshmen.
Yet that class has produced the third-ranking Republican in the House (Kevin McCarthy of California) and his chief deputy (Peter Roskam of Illinois), the head of the conservative Republican Study Committee (Jim Jordan of Ohio), and the House Republican with by far the largest national following (Michele Bachmann of Minnesota).
On top of that, a member of the 2006 class was elected governor of Oklahoma (Mary Fallin) in the November 2 election. And two are considered potential Senate candidates in 2012 (Vern Buchanan of Florida and Dean Heller of Nevada).
McCarthy, 45, has been in the Republican leadership since 2007. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the then-minority whip, picked McCarthy as his chief deputy. Now with Republicans in the majority, Cantor will become majority leader and McCarthy will take over the whip post.
In turn, McCarthy has picked Roskam as his deputy. Roskam, 49, won one of the toughest races of 2006, defeating Democrat Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq veteran who lost both legs when her helicopter was hit by a rocked-propelled grenade. He won 51-49 percent, succeeding Henry Hyde in the suburban Chicago district.
Jim Jordan, 46, won more easily (60-40 percent) in the seat that had been held by Mike Oxley (famous for the Sarbanes-Oxley bill). Jordan, a two-time NCAA champion wrestler for the University of Wisconsin, spoke at the American Enterprise Institute last month, stressing the need for self-discipline. He said it consists of “doing what you don’t want to do when you don’t want to do it.”
In 2010, Bachmann, 54, raised an eye-popping $13.2 million, and still has nearly $2 million of that left. Her conservative views, appearances on TV, and speeches around the country have catapulted her into political stardom. She won by a larger margin (52-40 percent) in November than in either 2008 (46-43 percent) or 2006 (50-42 percent).
Fallin, 56, was forced into a runoff to win the Republican House nomination for the Oklahoma City seat in 2006. But she romped to the governorship, 60-40 percent.
The possible Senate candidates (Heller and Buchanan) won squeakers in 2006. Heller, 50, beat Sharron Angle by 321 votes to win the primary. Buchanan, 59, defeated Democrat Christine Jennings by 369 votes in the closest House race in the 2006 general election.
The others first elected in 2006 are Gus Bilirakis, 47, who succeeded his father in a Florida seat, beating a Democratic candidate hand-picked by Rahm Emanuel, then chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; Doug Lamborn, 56, of Colorado, another narrow primary winner; and Adrian Smith, 40, of Nebraska, who defeated a highly-touted Democratic opponent, Scott Kleeb, a Yale graduate and cattle rancher.