Rep. Andy Harris in Chairman Race to Restore Conservative Vision of RSC

The race to become the next chairman of the Republican Study Committee expanded Wednesday morning as Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., announced he will challenge a fellow conservative, Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., for the helm of the largest GOP caucus in Congress.

Harris, a physician and the only Republican among Maryland’s congressional delegation, told The Daily Signal he will campaign as a unity candidate, a conservative who is able to bring rabble-rousers back to the RSC fold while pulling the Republican conference to the right.

“There’s disunity currently and any split in the conservative movement isn’t good,” Harris, 59, said in his first interview since announcing his bid. “I’d seek to be a unifier in the conservative wing. The main goal is to make sure that RSC is part of the conservative movement.”

As a member of both the House Freedom Caucus and the RSC, Harris is building the foundation of his campaign on bridging the divide between the two groups.

For months, members of the Freedom Caucus have been mulling a departure from the Republican Study Committee, which some criticize as not conservative enough. They say that while the groups share many of the same members, the RSC has lost its way politically and become a shill for GOP leadership.

To prevent that exodus, Harris said the RSC must restore the organization’s original vision of being “the conservative anchor in Congress.”

“You have HFC members publicly coming out and saying that they no longer believe the RSC is a conservative vehicle for change in Congress,” Harris said. “I want to change that opinion.”

Harris, elected in deep-blue Maryland’s 1st Congressional District in 2010, described the race as a sort of “existential discussion” on the fate of the Republican Study Committee. He warned that unless the RSC elects “a chairman who strongly desires unification,” members of the more conservative Freedom Caucus will leave.

The influence of the RSC is directly tied to Freedom Caucus membership, Harris argued.

“You can’t lose 20 of them and then claim you’re the spokesman for the conservative wing of the [Republican] conference,” he told The Daily Signal.

By jumping in the race, Harris has helped stave off that split for now.

In order to vote in the election for RSC chairman, lawmakers must renew their membership in the group. Harris said his campaign will go hand in hand with that renewal push, and he already is lobbying Freedom Caucus members to stay.

But he questioned whether his opponent could do the same.

“I have a lot of respect for Mark Walker,” Harris said. “I am not sure his goal for the RSC would be the same and we will make our arguments to the RSC members about it.”

Shortly after Harris made his announcement, Walker moved quickly to quell that narrative, saying he welcomed Harris’ candidacy.

“The Republican Study Committee is a place for robust debate on ideas and vision, eventually projecting a unified conservative voice,” Walker wrote in a statement. “The race for chairman should reflect that same principle.”

This is the second bid Harris has made to lead the RSC. He challenged Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, for the position in 2014 but dropped out when his wife of 33 years, Cookie, died unexpectedly. He has five children.

Next week, Harris will seek the blessing of the RSC Founders, a board made up of all the past chairmen still serving in Congress.

Harris told The Daily Signal that a fellow Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., decided to “graciously” drop out of the race so that the two did not divided the same voting bloc.

Harris beat the Democrat incumbent to win his seat representing Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

An anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital for three decades before joining Congress in 2011, Harris is currently the only Republican member of Maryland’s 10-member congressional delegation. He was a member of the Maryland Senate from 1998 to 2003 and is a medical officer in the Naval Reserve.

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