By Russell Berman - 06/19/14 03:58 PM EDT
House Republicans elected Rep. Steve Scalise (La.) majority whip on Thursday, adding a red-state conservative voice to the upper leadership ranks.
The victory makes Scalise the chief enforcer for GOP leadership; he will be responsible for whipping votes and corralling a conference that has often failed to unify on major votes.
The unusual June leadership elections were necessitated by the surprise primary loss of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), who will step aside from his leadership post on July 31.
First elected to the House in 2008, Scalise used his chairmanship of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) as a springboard to the party leadership. In challenging Roskam, who was McCarthy’s chief deputy, Scalise premised his candidacy on the desire of conservatives to install a Republican from a red state within a leadership team dominated by members from states that President Obama carried in the last two presidential elections.
Yet his coalition extended far beyond the South and included support from the conference’s highest-ranking woman, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.); as well as Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee; and Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), a leadership ally.
Roskam, a mild-mannered fourth-term successor to Rep. Henry Hyde (R) representing suburban Chicago, struggled to overcome questions about his conservative bona bides and ties to the party establishment. While he had been preparing for the race for years, he suffered from the conference’s desire to alter the status quo after Cantor’s loss, particularly after it became clear McCarthy had the votes to replace the Virginian.
Stutzman was the late entrant and wild card in the race. He drew support from ardent conservatives wary of Scalise's leadership ties and his work with Democrats on a flood insurance deal that many on the right opposed as fiscally irresponsible.
Scalise was seen as the leadership’s choice to lead the RSC after 2012, and he argued while wooing members that he would both bring a conservative voice to the top ranks and could bring conservatives votes along for leadership proposals.
While McCarthy appeared to have his victory in hand early, the whip’s race became a frenzy in the closing days, as the candidates worked the phones and went from delegation to delegation in search of votes. Scalise won essential support from the Pennsylvania delegation after the state’s Republicans interviewed all three candidates.
The contenders also made their case during an official candidate forum Wednesday morning.
The race was thought to be close, but House Republicans announce only the winner of their leadership elections, not the vote tallies.
Scalise’s victory opens up the chairmanship of the influential RSC, which now has more than 170 members. Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) are already vying for that post, and Stutzman could jump into the race as well.