House Republicans will gather to elect two new leaders on Thursday, filling the vacuum created by Eric Cantor’s surprise primary loss last week.The frontrunner to replace Cantor as majority leader is current majority whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who hails from the same establishment wing of the party. He faces a challenge from the right in Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho., a popular tea party conservative who participated in a failed attempt to oust John Boehner, R-Ohio, as speaker last year.
McCarthy’s play for majority leader opens up his own whip position, the No. 3 spot in the House, which is both more a competitive contest and more fertile ground for the House’s conservative wing.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., chairman of the influential Republican Study Committee, is positioning himself as a bridge between the tea party and establishment wings of the party. He would also bring a southern perspective to leadership for a caucus that’s increasingly dominated by its southern members.
Rep. Pete Roskam, R-Ill., who served as McCarthy’s deputy, is his chief rival and has pledged to tap a southern member as his own deputy whip to help address the regional imbalance.
Running as a distant dark horse, Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., is positioning himself himself as the voice of the newer generation of Republican members elected in 2010 and 2012
Supporters of Roskam and Scalise alike boasted on Wednesday that they were close to securing the 117 votes needed to win the position. Each are working to round up second-choice votes in case the three-way race fails to produce a majority vote and goes to another ballot.
The caucus will gather in the Capitol at 2 p.m. ET for a closed-door debate and vote. Unlike the vote for House speaker, Republicans employ a secret ballot for their internal leadership elections, potentially giving conservatives more freedom to challenge the establishment without fear of retaliation if they fall short.