House GOP whip race intensifies

The race for the third-ranking perch in the House Republican leadership intensified on Friday, as conservative Rep. Steve Scalise’s team reported it was “very close” to securing a majority needed to win.

Scalise, the chairman of the influential Republican Study Committee, would replace Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as majority whip if, as expected, McCarthy moves up to succeed the defeated Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as majority leader.

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But the campaign leading to a secret ballot election on Thursday remained fluid, and a source close to Scalise’s top rival, chief deputy whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), said the conservative was peaking at around 100 votes and bleeding support to Roskam and a late-coming challenger, Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.).

“Scalise may have charged hard out of the gate with his PR campaign but we understand he's stalled out at that 100 number, and we're gaining rapidly — our team is adding more hard YES votes, and these aren't just undecided members,” the Roskam source wrote in an email.

A person in Scalise’s operation said the Louisiana Republican hoped to reach the 117-vote majority threshold by the end of the day on Friday. Because of the secret ballot, it is impossible to verify how solid any candidate’s support is. Scalise was making calls until midnight on Thursday and remained in his office until 3 a.m., the person said. He plans to return to his district Sunday for Father’s Day.

Aides said Stutzman, another RSC member who entered the race on Thursday morning, did not have a chance to win and had only about 20 firm votes. The House GOP will hold a “candidate forum” on Wednesday for members to make their case.

McCarthy could still face a conservative challenge from Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), who has been “encouraged” by members to make a run for majority leader, according to a source close to the congressman.

Yet McCarthy’s likely ascension could help Scalise, who would give red-state conservatives a voice at a leadership table that has been dominated by lawmakers hailing from states won by President Obama in the last two elections.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, is helping Scalise along with Reps. Patrick McHenry (N.C.) and Renee Ellmers (N.C.), among others.

Roskam “captains” include committee chairmen Jeff Miller (Fla.) and Candice Miller (Mich.), along with Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio), a close ally of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who is neutral in the race.