WASHINGTON — Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Gold River), a former California attorney general, launched a campaign Friday to replace an Ohio congressman as leader of the House Republicans, seeking the tough job of rebuilding a party that lost more ground to Democrats in last week's election.
"Our party is in trouble," Lungren said in a letter to GOP colleagues announcing his challenge to House Minority Leader John A. Boehner. He warned that Republicans risk becoming a permanent minority unless they "rediscover" their "conservative principles."
The GOP rank and file will vote on its leaders Wednesday when Congress returns for a lame-duck session.
Republicans controlled the House for 12 years but lost the majority -- and their ability to set the agenda -- to the Democrats in 2006.
After more GOP election losses last week, the second- and third-ranking House Republicans, Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri and Republican Conference Chairman Adam H. Putnam of Florida, decided not to seek reelection to their leadership posts in the face of expected challenges.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who favors electing a new GOP leader, said he considers Lungren a longshot to oust Boehner.
But, he added, "it's inconceivable that we could convince people that we're ready to change with the same people in charge."
Republicans have come in for criticism from their base for increasing government spending at a time of massive deficits. Boehner and Lungren supported the Bush administration's $700-billion rescue plan for the financial services sector, even though a majority of House Republicans opposed it.
In light of the recent election losses, Lungren said, "we must not revert to business-as-usual in the selection of our House Republican leadership."
"The selection of our leadership will reflect the initial reaction of House Republicans to the recent verdict of the American people," he said.
Boehner, who became Republican leader in 2006 before his party lost control of the House, said in a recent letter to GOP colleagues that he was "deeply disappointed" by the outcome of the recent election.
"But I'm equally committed to building a lasting majority on the reform principles that define us and inspire our citizens," he wrote.
The 62-year-old Lungren, who narrowly won reelection last week, was elected to the House in 1978 from a Long Beach district. He served for 10 years, then became attorney general for eight years. He ran unsuccessfully for governor against Gray Davis in 1998. Lungren returned to the House in 2005 as a congressman from the Sacramento area.