After seeing Paul Ryan take a pass at challenging John Boehner for caucus leadership, most people thought that the current Minority Leader had dodged a bullet.  Predictions of smooth sailing turned out to be premature.  Dan Lungren, one of California’s vanishing conservative stalwarts, has decided that Boehner needs to at least face a challenge in order to justify another term at the top of the House caucus:

Rep. Dan Lungren announced Friday that he will challenge Rep. John Boehner for House Republican leader.

In a letter to his colleagues, Lungren wrote that he thought the Republican Party is headed in the wrong direction and would continue to face electoral defeats unless major changes are made.

“If we don’t admit our difficulties and address them aggressively, we not only run the risk of becoming a permanent congressional minority but we will do a disservice to our nation,” Lungren wrote. “If we choose by inaction to ignore the real challenges we face, then paraphrasing President Reagan, we deserve to be regulated to the trash heap of history.”

Both Boehner and Lungren have tried to keep the challenge collegial.  Lungren refrained from personal criticism of Boehner in his letter, and Boehner responded in kind by praising Lungren’s track record as a Republican Congressman.  Underneath the collegiality, though, lies the frustration that comes from losing two successive national elections and a desire to find a winning formula.

Lungren has had a long career as a conservative in a state increasingly hostile to the Right.  He served in Congress in the Reagan years, and then served as California’s Attorney General for two terms.  Lungren ran for Governor but was too conservative to build a large enough constituency, although Californians got buyer’s remorse with Gray Davis and wound up recalling him in 2003.  Lungren returned to Congress just in time to see Republicans lose their majority.

At 62, Lungren may not have the appeal to those seeking the conservative leadership of the future, but Lungren is a fighter for the Right.  For that matter, so is Boehner.  But Republicans in the House may be looking for change after a tough election, and Lungren wants to make sure that the opportunity exists for it.