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McCarthy Likely to Cruise to Leadership Victory; Other Slots Up for Grabs

Supporters of McCarthy and his bid to succeed Cantor are confident heading into the weekend. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Nice guys don't always finish last.  

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, an affable Californian who was once criticized as being too friendly to get far in leadership, has locked up the support needed to become the second-ranked Republican in the House in less than a week.  

The election to choose House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's successor isn't until June 19, but McCarthy's lightning-quick whip operation stifled any would-be competition , and discontented conservatives and Southerners were unable to recruit a competitive candidate from their own ranks.  

Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas dropped out of the race Thursday night , after Rep. Jeb Hensarling, another Texan, declined to run , telling his colleagues the job would put a strain on his young family.  

Many on the right had been pushing for Hensarling to enter the race as a conservative alternative to the current elected leadership. But with his decision not to run, members conceded that McCarthy — currently the majority whip and the third-ranked Republican in the House — will likely cruise to victory. “I would’ve preferred someone with a nice Southern drawl, but we don’t have that option. Jeb Hensarling is from Texas and he speaks more like my folks do and has fought philosophically more in tune with the way my folks think,” Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said. “But Kevin, when you look at his leadership abilities, his charisma, his ability to project on public policies issues, you have to give him an A-plus across the board.”  

Still, Sessions would have drawn votes from most of the close-knit Lone Star State delegation , said members exiting a meeting of the Texas lawmakers.  

"One's from Texas, one's from California. I'll leave them to define the differences," Rep. Randy Weber of Texas said of the contest. "You got 24 Texas Republicans in our delegation and I think we can all go out and call our colleagues and our friends in other delegations … the conservative ones … [who] indicated they would be on board with a Texas leader. … We’ve got to go out there and get to work."  

But it was not to be. Sessions said he did not want to cause an unnecessary rift among his conference and issued a statement dropping his bid late Thursday evening.  

There may still be another entry, as Rep. Raúl R. Labrador is mulling a bid. But with McCarthy’s operation already in full swing, members and aides said the Idaho Republican offers the "Hell No Caucus" — an informal bloc of several dozen of the House's most conservative Republicans — little more than a protest vote.  

When asked earlier Thursday whether he would run, Labrador said, “I am not commenting right now."  

House Republicans will hold a candidate forum on Wednesday in the Capitol, and the conference is asking members who want to run to make their bids official as soon as possible.  

While the majority leader fight looks to be settled, the race to replace McCarthy as whip has heated up with the surprise entry of a third candidate into what had been shaping up as a head-to-head match-up.  

Heading into Thursday, Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana had been pulling away from Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam of Illinois, according to several sources. Scalise had made inroads pushing the message that he would be the only Southerner in top elected leadership and could represent conservatives at the table.  

But Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana, who is close with many conservative members of the conference, made a surprise jump into the race Thursday morning.  

Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina noted that tea-party-aligned members might be persuaded to vote for Stutzman instead of Scalise.  

“Stutzman’s entry into the race might cost Scalise more than it would Roskam,” Mulvaney said. “But again, Steve has been a pretty good chairman of the RSC.”  

But Scalise can offer Southerners what they could not get in the race for majority leader: one of their own. As Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas put it, “I do consider Louisiana to be far-East Texas.”  

And his support has not been confined to the South. Reps. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., and Aaron Schock, R-Ill., are some of his top whips.  

But others, who are looking for an experienced hand at the table, said neither Stutzman nor Scalise would be the best candidate because both have, to varying degrees, voted against must-pass bills.  

Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., a member of the whip team, is undecided because he is personally close with Scalise and has worked closely with Roskam, but said that to Roskam’s credit, he has been a team player.  

“There’s a lot of things that we whip that we don’t want to be whipping, but we have to. And when those days come, based on your voting history, how do you reverse gears?” Rooney said. “So if you haven’t had a history of voting for those things, it’s going to be very difficult for you to convince yourself and others to do that.”  

Roskam has dipped into Scalise's Southern support, with Reps. Kay Granger of Texas and Richard Hudson of North Carolina helping his cause. Several members described the race as an agonizing choice.  

Adding to the leadership shakeup, if Scalise wins, the RSC chairmanship will be up for grabs.  

He would be required to vacate that role and an election to fill it would be scheduled later, according to the RSC bylaws as explained to CQ Roll Call.  

Mulvaney is the front-runner — he has been running for the post for weeks. But Stutzman has also privately been mulling the chairmanship and could use his bid for whip to leverage support for the top RSC position.  

As a dark horse, Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas announced he will run as well, drawing a quick endorsement from fellow Texan Rep. Steve Stockman. Gohmert unsuccessfully ran for the post once before, losing out to Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.  

The influence of the group's founders and former chairmen is a huge boost for the bid, but Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas, the only remaining founder of the group, declined to endorse a candidate. "The committee has strong conservative members with the ability to lead and uphold our bedrock principles of freedom, free enterprise, and limited government," he said in a statement.  

The RSC bylaws also put a one-term cap on its chairman. However, if a current chairman needs to step down in the middle of a Congress, the member elected to serve out the remainder of his or her term is allowed to seek re-election to run the RSC for a full two-year term in the next Congress.  

It means that, should Scalise become whip and the race to succeed him becomes competitive, the ultimate loser will have an opportunity for a rematch in a few months — though the incumbent would surely have the advantage, as incumbents usually do.  

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.    

Related stories: Labrador Announces Candidacy for Majority Leader Steve King Blasts Snap Election to Replace Eric Cantor Pete Sessions Drops Out of Majority Leader Race, Clearing Way for Kevin McCarthy (Updated) Leadership Shuffle Begins After Cantor Shocker Stunner: Cantor Loss Changes Everything Get breaking news alerts from Roll Call in your inbox or  on your iPhone.