McCarthy’s lead grows; whip race is close

Greg Nash

The three-way race for House majority whip is up for grabs, while Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) appears to be cruising in his bid to become the No. 2-ranked leader in the lower chamber.

The intraparty tension in both leadership contests pits Tea Party versus establishment Republicans. And with the election just three days away, the establishment has the early lead. 

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Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) headed home to their districts over the weekend, but that did not stop the fierce campaigning for the leadership spot that began shortly after Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) upended the House GOP power structure with his Tuesday primary loss.

Scalise has remained the front-runner and is amassing support; Roskam’s camp is expressing confidence over the home stretch; and Stutzman is presenting himself as some much-needed new blood.

Some on the right are wary of Roskam, who hails from a blue state and is already a member of the House leadership team. But Roskam has picked up the endorsements of some key conservatives, including Reps. Trey Gowdy (S.C.) and Rob Bishop (Utah).

Nailing down votes for a leadership race, which happens behind closed doors via secret ballot, is inherently a challenge, and many members have been reluctant to publicly announce their support.

An informal whip list by The Hill found Roskam enjoys a slight edge among those publicly backing a lawmaker, but all three candidates are well below the 117 needed to win the spot.

The race for majority whip has become the primary drama in Washington, as McCarthy the current whip, has emerged as the likely successor to Cantor.

Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), an outspoken conservative, launched a long-shot campaign to challenge McCarthy on Friday and is the only thing preventing McCarthy from waltzing into the position. At press time, Labrador only had three Republican backers, while McCarthy had 29.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling was seen as McCarthy’s biggest threat, but he opted against a bid for majority leader. The Texas Republican could mount a bid for Speaker after the elections.

Scalise, meanwhile, has a base of support. As head of the Republican Study Committee, his team worked quickly to line up support. Among those backing his bid is another member of leadership, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), who heads the House Republican Conference.

Sources close to Scalise are still expressing confidence, but are not laying out exact numbers in terms of votes accrued.

“Scalise is in a good place. He’s right where he needs to be,” said one Scalise source.

His camp claims he now has nearly 50 members whipping on his behalf, with the goal of winning the position on the first ballot cast Thursday. Under House GOP rules, a member can lock up a spot if he or she receives a majority of votes in the conference. If no one does, the lowest vote-getter is dropped from the ballot and votes are cast again.

While Roskam and Stutzman have sent letters to all their colleagues touting their candidacies, Scalise has not. Instead, his team says, Scalise is making an early show of his relationships with lawmakers by trying to contact each personally, and has already touched base with more than 200 of the 233 House Republicans.

But those fighting to fend off Scalise’s bid argue that his support won’t hold up behind closed doors.

A source in Roskam’s camp said his backers, which are claimed to be in the 90s, are “rock solid.” The source described Scalise’s endorsements as “an inch deep and a mile wide.”

On Friday, Roskam sent a letter to his colleagues where he highlighted his experience as chief deputy whip under McCarthy, and urged his colleagues to ignore the fact that his home state is a reliable Democratic stronghold.

“At this tumultuous time for our Conference, I think it is more important to have the skills necessary to line up votes than to check a geographical box,” he wrote.

But still, to assuage concerns from some conservatives who would balk at a GOP leadership structure made up entirely of blue-staters, Roskam vowed he would pick a lieutenant from a red state.

Roskam’s letter was sprinkled with references to previous statesmen, including Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Henry Hyde. He also noted the fractures that plagued the House majority in recent years, and vowed to heal them.

Meanwhile, Stutzman’s late entry into the race seems to have put him in the position of a spoiler, or a dark horse if voting goes to a second ballot with him on it. He made his case to colleagues via his own letter sent Monday, where he billed himself as a fresh face to shake up the power structure.

“In politics, we all know and recognize when the status quo has changed. When it does, we have to re-examine our course while remembering our core principles,” he wrote.

Stutzman pointed out that he hails from the “historic” class of 2010, which saw a huge influx of new Republicans riding the Tea Party wave and taking control of the House. Tapping into that large bloc of GOP lawmakers, Stutzman wrote that serving in that class has been the “honor of his life,” and promised to use the lessons learned in the last three and a half years to improve operations if elected whip.

“We ran on a promise to find solutions to the problems that have plagued Washington for so many years. We’ve rolled up our sleeves, learned the ropes and worked as a team with the entire Conference to get many valuable things done.”

At press time, Roskam had 22 public backers, Scalise 17 and Stutzman 7, according to The Hill’s whip list.

Updated at 8:57 p.m. to reflect that Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) has not voiced support for Roskam.

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