The contest to fill the vacuum left by the lightning downfall of Rep. Eric Cantor narrowed on Thursday as Rep. Jeb Hensarling said he will not run for Cantor's vacated post as House majority leader.
The decision by Hensarling, R-Texas, came as congressional Republicans continued sorting through the consequences of Cantor's unexpected demise.
The Virginian announced Wednesday that he would step down as No. 2 House GOP leader, a day after a revolt by voters in his conservative district led to his defeat in a party primary by an unknown, underfunded economics professor, Dave Brat, who had local tea party support. Cantor leaves his job July 31.
In a written statement, Hensarling — who chairs the House Financial Services Committee — said he was "humbled by the calls, emails, and conversations from my colleagues encouraging me" to run.
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But he added, "After prayerful reflection, I have come to the conclusion that this is not the right office at the right time for me and my family."
Hensarling's decision leaves two candidates vying for the majority leader job: his fellow Texas Republican, Rep. Pete Sessions, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Sessions is chairman of the House Rules Committee, while McCarthy is currently GOP whip, the No. 3 House Republican.
Both men wasted little time contacting colleagues and trying to line up support. McCarthy has been relying on his network of deputy whips while Sessions has been helped by the 24 GOP members of the Texas congressional delegation, one of the House's largest state contingents.
Before Hensarling dropped out of the race, Texas GOP lawmakers met Wednesday to try persuading him or Sessions to drop out so the delegation could unite behind one candidate, members of the delegation had said.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said the Texans had moved too slowly in a contest in which even a day is too much time.
Lucas said McCarthy was button-holing members on Wednesday, saying, "''I watched him in a very aggressive fashion work the floor yesterday" during votes.
Leadership elections will be next Thursday.
Even as the majority leader race narrowed, the contest to replace McCarthy as whip expanded as Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., entered the race.
Already seeking that post were Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., who has been chief deputy whip, and Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. Scalise is head of the Republican Study Committee, the organization representing conservative GOP lawmakers.
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