The race for the House GOP’s whip leadership post is turning into a two-man affair, lawmakers said Wednesday after emerging from a closed-door meeting where they heard pitched from the candidates.
With current Whip Kevin McCarthy poised to win the majority leader’s post, the No. 2 job, the race to succeed him in the No. 3 job has become the centerpiece of Thursday’s elections — and the chief battleground for conservatives who argue they deserve a bigger role in GOP leaders’ decisions.
Rep. Steve Scalise, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus in the House, is facing off against Rep. Peter Roskam, the current chief deputy to Mr. McCarthy, with Rep. Marlin Stutzman also in the race.
Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican and a Scalise supporter, said it’s become a two-man race between Mr. Scalise and Mr. Roskam.
“Both these guys have done well. … It’s a tough choice personally, but I think Steve is just very well-positioned right now,” Mr. Cole said.
Rep. John Fleming, who, like Mr. Scalise, represents a district in Louisiana, said Mr. Scalise manages people well and can bring people of different viewpoints together.
“All I can tell you is that conservatives have been very concerned that we haven’t had a voice at the leadership table,” he said. “And this may be a good opportunity to have that voice.”
If a candidate fails to win a majority of the conference’s current lineup of 233 members, the contest will go to a second ballot, where the candidates and their supporters begin trying to strike deals.
Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona said he’s not officially backed anyone in the whip’s race but that members in the Wednesday meeting were ready for some kind of change at or near the top.
“I think there was an agreement across the board that we’re very, very frustrated with the fact that just a handful of people make all the decisions — that we ran for office too wanting to be relevant, and most of us feel like we’re irrelevant,” he said. “Because [you’ve] got a handful of leadership and staff that call all the decisions around here and members who have been duly elected don’t really have much of a voice.”
The jockeying began after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost to a little-known primary challenger last Tuesday and announced he would be stepping down from his leadership post at the end of July. Mr. McCarthy is expected to beat Rep. Raul Labrador in the race to replace Mr. Cantor.
Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina said he believes Mr. Roskam is well-positioned for a potential second ballot.
“There’s always the fudge factor,” he said. “If you add up what every candidate for whip says they have, there’s about 250 members of our conference.”
He said Mr. Roskam’s team feels “comfortable” with their count, which he put at around 90 — up from 60 on Thursday — and said that Mr. Scalise’s count is around 100.
“We feel really good about the second ballot,” Mr. Hudson said. “I don’t know if we’re at 120 yet. I feel really good about the second ballot.”
Rep. Diane Black, a Tennessee Republican who serves with Mr. Roskam on the powerful Ways and Means committee, says she knows he’s a “very conservative” person but that he’s got to make that case to others as well.
“For me, Peter has always been there on issues that are very important to me — fiscal matters and the social side of being pro-life - and that’s what a lot of what the folks from the south are looking for,” she said.
Mr. Stutzman, meanwhile, said he told his colleagues about doing the “little things” Wednesday morning.
“I’m going to work to know exactly what members need in their particular districts — empowering them and making sure that they are serving the people they serve to the best of their ability,” he said.
“I think we get to the second ballot, all bets are off,” he added, saying he’s got a “good number of commitments.”
“We’re in the ballgame,” he said.
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