Two House leadership posts have lawmakers in a frenzied dash to lock up votes for Thursday's balloting – with the race for House majority leader leaning toward Rep. Kevin McCarthy.
But a volatile contest for a new party whip may best forecast the future for House Republicans, revolving around geographical, personal and ideological factors that promise to take the race down to the wire.
Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Peter Roskam of Illinois and Marlin Stutzman of Indiana were in a "vote-to-vote struggle" for the No. 3 leadership post, Politico
Scalise got a last-minute boost Wednesday that could vault him over the top, with Pennsylvania Republican Reps. Joe Pitts and Bill Shuster pledging support and saying they'd get their 11 GOP Keystone State colleagues in line, Roll Call
But it's not a lock. Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy said he'd already agreed to support Scalise's rival, Roskam, who currently is chief deputy whip.
Stutzman, meanwhile, was mounting a challenge from the 2010 class of lawmakers who swept to power on promises to shake up the establishment. But if he can't get a third of the conference — 78 votes — he'll have to withdraw and his supporters will have to choose between Scalise and Roskam.
New York Rep. Tom Reed told Roll Call that "it's time for our class to start to come together and exert more influence around here."
"We were sent here to change the status quo of Washington, and I think there's now an opportunity to really be at the table influencing the direction of the conference," he said.
After the lawmaker-candidates made their pitches at a closed-door Republican Conference session Wednesday, each was confident.
"We've always said, whether it's a first ballot, second ballot, if it's a third ballot, we're working all the way through and we have a plan for each contingency," Scalise said, Roll Call reported.
"When you got multiple people in the race, you got a possibility of holding the ballots. If your opponents' winning strategy is to come in second, then I'm here to help them achieve their goal."
Roskam said most of the party "wants to move forward."
"There is a heroic majority here, there is a majority in our conference that wants to move forward and do great things, and I want to be part of trying to bring that out," he said.
Stutzman boasted he's tapping into many lawmakers' frustration with the frontrunners, and hopes to pull off an upset.
"We have broad support," he said, ticking off a list of his followers. "We're going after everyone . . . There is a lot of frustration in the conference."
Stutzman told Politico, however, that he wouldn't rule out an interest in chief deputy whip, the right-hand man to the No. 3 Republican, if he doesn't make a second ballot.
"I'll think about it at that time, but right now I'm just working members," he told Politico.
According to The Advocate
, a Louisiana newspaper, the votes will be decided by Thursday afternoon.
Even a clear victory Thursday is no guarantee of a long lease in the leadership office.
The rank and file will reconvene after midterm elections in the fall, and first-term North Carolina Republican Rep. Richard Hudson told the Associated Press that when it does, "I don't think anybody will be uncontested."
Republicans will vote again on their top leaders and select the GOP candidate for speaker when newly elected lawmakers come to Washington for orientation after the November election. The speaker must also win a floor vote when the new Congress
convenes in January.
More than anything else, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's surprising loss in his Virginia primary last week to tea party-backed college professor Dave Brat has GOP lawmakers on edge. Cantor is stepping down from his leadership post July 30.
The current top leaders in the House are Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio; Cantor; McCarthy, the current whip; and Roskam, deputy whip.
McCarthy, of California, is widely expected to step up to Cantor's post, but even that's not a certainty: conservative Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho has mounted a late challenge.
At the closed-door conference session, Labrador urged lawmakers to ditch the status quo — McCarthy — or risk telling voters "we are still not listening" to the public, according to a copy of his remarks that was distributed after the meeting.
"We will break our pledge and with that we may lose the ability to regain control of the Senate and eventually win the presidency," he argued.
But he's also eyed with caution by anti-immigration Republicans because of his work to reach a bipartisan compromise on immigration legislation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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