Updated 5:45 p.m. | After a fiercely fought campaign against two competitors , Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana emerged Thursday afternoon as the GOP conference's pick to be the next House majority whip.
Shoring up support from colleagues more rapidly than his opponents and running on a platform that touted his ties to a southern, reliably Republican-voting state, Scalise's biggest barrier was overcoming criticism that he wasn't conservative enough. His backers, however, saw him as someone who could serve as a bridge between the far-right contingent of the conference and more mainstream factions — a conservative sympathizer, but also a team player with a respect for the establishment.
"I said I think he’d be a great whip, but of the 80 conservatives [in the House], I think he’s the 81st," said Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who ultimately voted for Scalise, citing his composure, his help in congressional campaigns and his ability to listen to and engage with those with whom he disagrees.
Though the official tally was not released — nor is it likely to ever surface — the fact that Scalise won on the first ballot was telling of the overwhelming support he received. The whip race was the more competitive of the two elections , and many were expecting there to be a second ballot if none of the three candidates received a majority of votes, forcing the two highest vote-earners into a run-off.
Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., told reporters after the vote that it was Team Roskam's strategy to get to the second ballot and win.
"There were enough undecideds in the last couple days we could have mathematically gotten it on the first ballot, but I think we were realistically thinking, 'We gotta get to the second ballot,'" said Hudson, who was whipping for Roskam and was rumored to have been his top pick for the chief deputy whip slot. "I think the second ballot we felt good about, but the first ballot was always up in the air."
Roskam walked into the vote feeling confident: "We're going to peak at just the right hour."
He left the gathering in the Longworth House Office Building declining to comment on his next steps, but said that the fact that the vote only came to one ballot sends a strong signal about Scalise's talents.
"He did a very good job, and it’s a foreshadowing that he could be a very good whip," Roskam said. "I wish him the very best and will actively help him to be a successful whip. He ran a great campaign."
"We haven't seen the last of Peter Roskam," Hudson said.
Stutzman also held his head high upon leaving the committee room. He said that fellow 2010-er Tom Reed of New York delivered a nominating speech, along with veteran Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and freshman Jackie Walorski, with whom Stutzman once served in the Indiana state Legislature.
Though he'd hoped to be the conservative choice to sit at the leadership table, Stutzman said he didn't view his loss as a missed opportunity for House conservatives.
"Not at all," Stutzman said. "You take the opportunities when they present themselves. If you don't, if you're not successful, there's always going to be another time. And so there's going to be a lot of changes down the road. We'll take the opportunity when we get them."
Some of Stutzman's House GOP colleagues are said to already be plotting their next move ahead of November, when leadership elections for all but the speakership need to take place all over again in advance of the 114th Congress.
But immediately following the election results on Thursday, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who was supporting Labrador for majority leader, seemed resigned. "The best chance for a change in leadership was today," he said.
After a brief press conference featuring the new slate of House GOP leadership — effective July 31, when Cantor steps aside — Scalise dashed down the stairs to the Longworth basement to catch up his wife and young children waiting to celebrate with him.
He said that his first task would be to start interviewing prospective chief deputy whips.
"People know how to get in touch with me, and some people have already expressed interest, and I think more will, and that's good. Competition's a good thing," he said.
The next race to watch is the scramble to replace Scalise at the helm of RSC. Stutzman wouldn't say whether he'd made a decision about seeing if he could secure a chairmanship there, but Labrador-backer Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida told CQ Roll Call he'd already seen some names bandied about.
"I've heard something about Louie Gohmert, I've heard Mick Mulvaney, I've heard Matt Salmon, I've heard Andy Harris," DeSantis said. "If Salmon runs, I'll support him. If Andy Harris runs. I'll support him."
Bridget Bowman, Cady Zuvich and Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.
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