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10 dark horse candidates for Speaker of the House
A small group of House Republicans has already begun meeting in the Capitol complex to discuss that scenario, some participants told The Hill. The GOP lawmakers, none of whom wanted to be identified, said the secretive talks have centered on who would be interested - and who would be a viable candidate - if both McCarthy and Scalise stumble.
"What happens if nobody can secure enough votes for Speaker?" said one of the participants. "It's a legitimate question; it's not about being disloyal to Kevin McCarthy."
"This is headed to a chaotic climax. I don't think it will be as clean as we're being told it is," the source said, noting that members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus are not involved in the discussions. "There are some Plan B meetings taking place."
Retiring Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has already backed McCarthy, his chief deputy and heir apparent, to succeed him. But Scalise, the No. 3 Republican, is expected to run for the top job if McCarthy suddenly drops his bid like he did in 2015, after conservatives declined to back him.
Some Republicans, however, say Scalise - who survived a near-fatal shooting last summer and whom President Trump has dubbed "the legend from Louisiana" - also might come up short if Republicans keep the majority.
Such a scenario could throw the Speaker's race into complete disarray, raising the possibility that a dark horse candidate could emerge. Here are 10 House Republicans who could be propelled into the Speaker's office if the current front-runners can't secure the votes.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (N.C.)
After a tumultuous series of events in 1998, Chief Deputy Whip Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) found himself unexpectedly holding the Speaker's gavel. That's why some Republicans have pointed to Rep. Patrick McHenry (N.C.), Scalise's right-hand man and chief deputy whip, as a potential Speaker.
McHenry, always impeccably dressed with a bow tie, is intensely loyal to Scalise. But some GOP colleagues have applauded his performance filling in for Scalise as the top GOP vote counter after Scalise was critically wounded during a shooting on a baseball field in June 2017. They described McHenry as tough but fair.
One House Republican said he recently introduced a friend to McHenry this way: "If you're laying 20-to-1 odds, this is a good guy to bet on being Speaker sometime in his lifetime."
When asked whether he would be interested in the gig, McHenry scoffed at the idea.
"Not running," he told The Hill as he power-walked out of the Capitol.
Rep. Mark Walker (N.C.)
The Speaker's gavel could fall into the hands of another powerful North Carolina Republican: Mark Walker.
As chairman of the largest caucus on Capitol Hill, the 160-member Republican Study Committee (RSC), Walker has seen his profile grow from lowly backbencher to conservative leader in two short years. The former Baptist preacher talks regularly with Trump, does weekly cable TV hits and takes part in the Speaker's "cross-sectional" meeting.
When asked about the Speaker's job, Walker declined to comment. But several RSC colleagues have praised Walker for taking the caucus in a more conservative direction, assuaging concerns that the group was getting too cozy with leadership.
"I think Mark Walker has done a tremendous job as chairman, leading the RSC and taking on issues and communicating well," said Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.).
Walker, however, has been known to make a verbal gaffe or two. During a news conference last year, Walker jokingly described female colleagues standing near him as RSC "eye candy." And in May, Walker was forced to resign from the Speaker's special search committee after he told reporters the next House chaplain should have a family, infuriating Catholic lawmakers in both parties.
Walker "doesn't have the messaging discipline to properly articulate critical issues without fumbling the message," one GOP lawmaker said at the time.
The GOP chairmen
If neither McCarthy nor Scalise secure the gavel, Republicans will be looking for another white knight like Ryan, who previously led the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee after leading the Budget Committee. The exclusive group of committee chairmen could be fertile ground this time around.
Lawmakers interviewed by The Hill consistently pointed to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) as someone who could step up to the plate. They say Walden, who chaired the House GOP's campaign arm for two election cycles, understands competitive races and red districts like his own.
And he has increased his visibility in the conference, having led the Energy and Commerce panel during the House GOP's effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
Some members, however, are worried he isn't conservative enough.
"He's too liberal," said one member of the House Freedom Caucus.
For his part, Walden said he's happy in his current post.
"I have a very rewarding position as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee," he said. "I'm quite pleased with it."
Rep. Kevin Brady, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, has raised his national profile and boosted his conservative credentials since shepherding tax reform into law.
The Texas Republican, however, dismissed the idea he could be a dark horse candidate.
"I'm going to make it even darker, because I'm not running for Speaker," Brady, who has served in Congress for more than 20 years, said in a brief interview.
Brady is well-liked in the GOP conference. Just as The Hill asked whether Brady could be convinced to run for Speaker by his colleagues, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), as if on cue, interrupted the interview to heap praise on Brady.
"He is the most brilliant man," Meadows said as he walked by, prompting a laugh from Brady. "If I had his intelligence and his looks, I'd be somebody."
Another name that surfaces is Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee and former Utah Speaker of the House who is a stickler for process and "regular order."
Bishop has said that he will leave Congress after 2020, when he's term-limited as head of the Natural Resources panel.
But that could make Bishop, a Mormon and former National Rifle Association lobbyist, an appealing transitional figure to lead the GOP if there is no clear front-runner.
Bishop, known around the Capitol for his dry humor, joked that there were others who would become Speaker before himself.
"If I were running, the country would have to be in really, really bad shape," Bishop said, though he acknowledged that some Republicans have tried to recruit him to run to help fix the broken legislative process, which he said "sucks."
"I've basically dismissed it because I anticipate it will be an easy transition," he added. "I still expect McCarthy to easily get the number."
The House GOP has never had a woman rise above the No. 4 spot, which is currently occupied by Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Given her perch in leadership, McMorris Rodgers is seen as a prime contender to move up the ladder. But the 49-year-old Washington Republican is facing a tough reelection race and has been met with criticism from younger lawmakers upset about the GOP's messaging efforts.
One of those young guns is Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), a rising star who is also seen as someone who could potentially swoop in to lead the GOP.
The 42-year-old became the first black Republican woman elected to Congress, and since arriving on Capitol Hill she hasn't been afraid to stand up to her party.
Love, who is Haitian-American, slammed Trump for calling Haiti, El Salvador and African nations "shithole countries." She also joined an insurgent group of Republicans in signing a discharge petition this year to circumvent leadership and force floor action on immigration legislation.
Another Republican woman who could unexpectedly win the Speaker's gavel is Rep. Ann Wagner (Mo.), a former ambassador under President George W. Bush and former co-chair of the Republican National Committee.
Wagner, a senior member of the GOP whip team, would bring gravitas, political savvy and a huge rolodex.
"I just think she has the political acumen, the fundraising prowess, and the look to be an effective national spokesman," said a senior GOP aide. "She's an adult."
Freedom Caucus alternatives
While it would be a long shot, some members of the Freedom Caucus are eyeing an ambitious bid for the Speaker's gavel.
Rep. Jim Jordan, a former chairman of both the group and the RSC, had been reaching out to colleagues about a potential run. But in recent weeks, the Ohio Republican has seen his chances dwindle as he's battled allegations that he failed to protect wrestlers from sexual abuse when he was an assistant coach at Ohio State University.
Mark Meadows, the caucus chairman, is a national figure and one of Trump's top allies on Capitol Hill. But the North Carolina Republican has made many enemies in the conference and insists he's not interested in being Speaker.
And Rep. Ted Yoho (Fla.), who ran for Speaker once before, told some of his colleagues earlier this year that he would be willing to throw his hat into the ring again, but only if Jordan opts against running.
"It would be tough for any Freedom Caucus member to get the support of the conference," said one caucus member. "We're still too marginalized."