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Lawmakers wary of McCarthy's ability to deliver GOP message

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With discontent building over McCarthy, one of his chief critics, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, began weighing a bid for speaker on Friday. (AP)

With just days before House Republicans vote on a new speaker, the outcome remained in significant doubt Friday as lawmakers questioned whether Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has the skills to articulate the GOP message.

"I think Republicans are looking for someone who not only won't embarrass us, but who can also actually project some confidence, some conservative principles, and articulate them," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., who has not endorsed a candidate yet.

McCarthy, R-Calif., already had some convincing to do in order to win over conservative House lawmakers, who view him as part of a leadership team they don't trust.

McCarthy made his job more difficult on Wednesday when he suggested in a Fox News interview that the House panel investigating the terrorist attacks in Benghazi was aimed at presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

McCarthy's remarks were seized on by Democrats, who say McCarthy admitted the Benghazi panel is a political and perhaps even unethical tool of the Republican party, created to hurt Clinton's White House bid.

House Republicans were angry about McCarthy's misstep and said it underscored the need for a new speaker who is an articulate messenger, capable of bolstering the party's conservative credentials.

With discontent building over McCarthy, one of his chief critics, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, suddenly began weighing a bid for speaker on Friday.

Chaffetz, who is chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has played a very visible role in the House GOP by holding hearings on Planned Parenthood, the Internal Revenue Service and dysfunction within the Secret Service. He's a regular guest on television talk shows, forcefully defending GOP investigations into the Obama administration.

The Utah Republican won't confirm he's running, but lawmakers tell the Washington Examiner he's considering jumping in.

A consortium of conservative House caucus groups has invited Chaffetz to make the case for his candidacy at a candidates forum scheduled for next week. Huelskamp called Chaffetz and personally extended the invitation.

"They won't confirm or deny that he is running," Huelskamp said. "I take that to mean he is considering it."

Earlier this week, Chaffetz, Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, and other conservative lawmakers tried to recruit into the GOP leadership another able messenger, Benghazi panel chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.

Gowdy, a conservative firebrand who fluently delivers the party message and rarely trips up, would be "the kind of smart fighter our country needs," Love said in a memo endorsing Gowdy for majority leader.

"He's exceptionally well liked, people trust him, and when it comes to making the case on the floor of the House, there is nobody better than Trey Gowdy," Chaffetz said earlier this week.

House Speaker John Boehner took the unusual step of trying to recruit Gowdy to run for Majority Leader. So far Gowdy hasn't committed to getting into any leadership race.

As of this week, there were only two official candidates for speaker. In addition to McCarthy, Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., has entered the race.

The speaker nominee needs to win only 125 votes in the House GOP elections on Oct. 8., which is a simple majority of the 248-member conference.

But to become House Speaker, the candidate must earn 218 votes on the House floor, which could be difficult if the conservative caucus doesn't like the candidate who wins on Oct. 8.

"People are hungry for change," Huelskamp said. "It will take a strong and articulate speaker, someone who at the end of the day will have to pull together 218 votes."