Rep. Pete Sessions will challenge Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy in next week's special election to replace Eric Cantor as majority leader.
Emerging from Thursday's closed-door luncheon of the Texas GOP delegation, Rep. Joe Barton, a friend of Sessions', told a throng of reporters: "Pete Sessions is running for majority leader, and I think he will be the next majority leader."
"He's going to win," echoed Rep. John Carter, another Texan.
Sessions' entrance into the race sets up a head-to-head clash with McCarthy. Sessions, who serves as chairman of the House Rules Committee, has been known to not see eye-to-eye with the current majority whip.
"I am not going to say who is and who isn't conservative," Sessions said when asked about McCarthy.
However, the Texan and former chairman of the National Congressional Campaign Committee argued that he's the conservative who can bridge the House GOP's internal divide. "Texans, Georgians, Pennsylvanians, I can bring us together," he said.
McCarthy, whose vote-counting operation was humming as of yesterday morning, starts the contest with a significant lead on Sessions. While McCarthy spent Wednesday hosting colleagues in his office and working them on the House floor, Sessions finalized his bid on Thursday afternoon -- after many lawmakers had already departed the Capitol following the final votes of the week.
Sessions does have one factor working in his favor: the size of the Texas delegation. Twenty-four House Republicans hail from the Lone Star state, and Republican sources expect the vast majority of them to back Sessions. In fact, Rep. Michael Burgess said all of the Texans in attendance were rallying behind sessions.
Carter conceded that McCarthy might have a head start. "Roy Blunt told me he had it sewn up, too. But John Boehner is speaker," Carter said, referring to a bygone GOP leadership race.
One influential Texan who attended the meeting -- but can't vote in next week's election -- was Sen. Ted Cruz. The tea party favorite and potential 2016 presidential candidate told reporters he is staying out of the race.