A conservative challenges two “establishment” Republicans in the race for the House’s No. 3 leadership post.

While the contest for House majority leader has come down to upstart challenger Raúl Labrador of Idaho against apparent favorite Kevin McCarthy of California,  three lawmakers are contending for the slot just below it — and two of them will go on to a final match.

McCarthy’s decision to give up the post of majority whip to seek the No. 2 position of majority leader set the Republican conference in motion to find the Californian’s replacement, with three names emerging for Thursday’s election: Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, R-Ill., Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise, R-La., and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind. Roskam and Scalise are allied with the party establishment, while Stutzman represents conservative reformers.

Although Scalise heads the 170-member RSC, which aims to advance conservative policies, some in the conservative ranks fault his allegiance to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio — to them the model of “establishment.” Scalise gained the RSC chairmanship after successfully challenging Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., the choice of RSC veterans, in an election by secret ballot.

The Louisianan riled conservatives in December, when he ousted Paul Teller, the RSC’s long-time executive director. Scalise also raised eyebrows last August by barring staff of The Heritage Foundation from RSC meetings. Teller rebounded as a senior aide to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Scalise has emerged as the front-runner for whip, locking up more than 100 votes of the 173 needed to win, The Washington Post reported. Stutzman, by his count, has racked up about 50.

An upset of Scalise is possible, should the third-place finisher’s support move to the lawmaker who comes in second, providing a margin of victory over Scalise in the runoff. However, conservatives who back Stutzman would not be disappointed if they only hold down the margin of a Scalise victory, a knowledgeable observer noted.

The votes to elect a majority leader and a majority whip both were set for Thursday by Boehner following unexpected news last week: Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary loss to challenger Dave Brat, a Randolph-Macon economics professor. Cantor announced he would resign his leadership post, effective July 31. As McCarthy quickly went to work locking up support to succeed Cantor, conservatives approached others about giving him a contest for majority leader. Reps. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Pete Sessions, R-Texas, explored bids, but soon backed out. Labrador ultimately announced Friday that he would take on McCarthy.

Although McCarthy is seen all but inevitably as Cantor’s successor, that hasn’t stopped Labrador from making a valiant effort. As many lawmakers headed to their home districts for the weekend, the sophomore congressman began calling GOP lawmakers and asking for their backing. In a letter to colleagues to drum up support, Labrador wrote:

Promoting, by acclamation, a member of the very Washington leadership that has failed to bridge the divide with Republicans outside Washington struck me as exactly the wrong response. … I know some people made commitments before I entered the race, but the most important commitments we make are to the American people we represent. So I am hopeful you will at least pause for a moment and consider me for this role.


  • Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.