Surrounded Wednesday by at least three generations of his extended family, Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., celebrated receiving 43 votes for speaker in the Republican Conference election.
And he strongly hinted his long-shot bid had concluded. "I think this is done," Webster told reporters. "It's 200 to 43. Let's head forward and see what we can do."
Webster ran on a promise to facilitate a bottom-up approach to legislating that resonated with many of his colleagues who have become disenchanted with the current, top-heavy leadership structure.
Over the past month, Webster has remained through iterations of candidate pools to succeed Speaker John A. Boehner. He was the only member to take on Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., whose emergence otherwise cleared the prospective field. But Ryan winning 200 of the 245 votes in the conference secret-ballot nominating election cemented the Ways and Means chairman's place as the favorite to win the floor vote Thursday.
A Symbolic Crusade Everything about Webster's campaign so far suggests he would fight to the end — but his crusade might have been more symbolic than anything else.
The same goes for Webster's 43 votes. Ryan needs some of those to win a majority during the live roll call vote on the House floor, and several Webster backers said they planned to do just that. That includes Rep. David Jolly, even though he seconded his fellow Florida Republican's nomination.
“During my second of [Webster’s] nomination, I said we should all unify as a party going forward," Jolly told CQ Roll Call, "and so I am excited about the talent that Paul Ryan brings to the speakership.”
Members of the House Freedom Caucus voted internally three weeks ago to endorse Webster as a bloc, and many of those members, like Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, honored that commitment Wednesday. But a "supermajority" of the 40-member HFC subsequently voted to support Ryan, in some interpretations overriding the Webster endorsement.
"We're cautiously optimistic that he's gonna change the way we're doing things here and we're gonna give him a chance," Labrador said of Ryan. "We're gonna have his back for the next few months and make sure we give him the opportunity to show us that he can be the leader we want him to be."
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., who voted for Ryan Wednesday and will again Thursday, said most of his fellow HFC members had come around to Ryan and that many of the Webster votes likely came from outside the HFC.
Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, said some members were probably acting out their frustration that Ryan was scheduled later in the day to vote for the budget deal negotiated at senior levels at the eleventh hour.
Following the vote, Webster said his campaign for speaker had been a game-changer, one that had all but forced Ryan and others to promise an overhaul of the culture of the GOP Conference.
"I think we have changed the debate, changed the discussion away from a power-based system, away from a top-down approach, to one that works," Webster said. "And if we can do that, we'll be successful. If we don't, we won't be."
The "Boehner 25" Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., said they would again vote for Webster on the floor. Jones said not to underestimate the Floridian and predicted Webster's support could come close to the number of Boehner dissenters in the January speaker election.
"I think it could still be close to the 25," Jones said.
In January, Webster received 12 of those anti-Boehner votes, including his own. The other Republicans who backed him were Jones, Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Rich Nugent of Florida, Bill Posey of Florida, Scott Rigell of Virginia, Steve King of Iowa, Marlin Stutzman of Indiana and Rod Blum of Iowa.
Gosar, Huelskamp and Meadows all said they voted for Webster in conference but have not said how they will vote on the floor on Thursday.
While members said it was practically guaranteed Ryan would lose floor votes, they said it was unlikely to reach 25, given the level of rage at Boehner in January. Ryan, in contrast, has wooed many of his biggest critics into giving him the benefit of the doubt.
As he headed down a flight of stairs in the Longworth House Office Building, Webster said he didn't want his colleagues nominating him on the floor Thursday. But he ignored shouts from the press about whether he would back Ryan.
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.