House GOP Leadership Hopefuls Prepare Their Pitches

Five candidates for majority leader and majority whip will audition before Republican members Wednesday ahead of votes for the posts Thursday.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) arrives for a House Republican conference meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 16, 2013. The Senate leaders announced a bipartisan agreement to end the partial government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. 
National Journal
Tim Alberta and Billy House
June 17, 2014, 5:24 p.m.

Five con­tenders for two po­s­i­tions in House Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship will state their cases to a closed-door meet­ing of GOP law­makers Wed­nes­day morn­ing, af­ford­ing the can­did­ates their first — and only — op­por­tun­ity to sell them­selves to the en­tire con­fer­ence be­fore Thursday’s elec­tions.

The au­di­tions will likely prove more con­sequen­tial in the race for ma­jor­ity whip than in the con­test to re­place Eric Can­tor as ma­jor­ity lead­er. Kev­in Mc­Carthy, the cur­rent ma­jor­ity whip, is the over­whelm­ing fa­vor­ite to re­place his best friend as the House GOP’s No. 2.

Tellingly, Mc­Carthy has said little pub­licly to con­vince mem­bers of his can­did­acy, re­ly­ing in­stead on dozens of private meet­ings with col­leagues and his pro­fes­sion­al vote-count­ing op­er­a­tion to get the job done.

Asked what his pitch will be to Re­pub­lic­ans in Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing, Mc­Carthy told Na­tion­al Journ­al: “We don’t pitch.” Asked to elab­or­ate on how he would sell his can­did­acy, Mc­Carthy replied: “Just talk to them.”

It’s a stark con­trast to the ap­proach taken by Rep. Raul Lab­rador of Idaho, the con­ser­vat­ive un­der­dog who is chal­len­ging Mc­Carthy head-on. Un­like Mc­Carthy, Lab­rador does not en­joy re­la­tion­ships across the GOP Con­fer­ence (and some of his sup­port­ers could ask for a delay in the lead­er­ship elec­tions to help Lab­rador build a base, but it’s not likely to hap­pen). Be­cause of that, he has un­der­taken a pub­lic cam­paign to win sup­port­ers — send­ing a let­ter to col­leagues ar­guing that “Amer­ic­ans are look­ing for a change in the status quo,” and us­ing the me­dia to con­vey his pledge of bring­ing a bot­tom-up ap­proach to the GOP lead­er­ship team.

A sim­il­ar mes­sage is be­ing pushed by Rep. Marlin Stutz­man of In­di­ana in the race for ma­jor­ity whip. Stutz­man, like Lab­rador, is a de­cided un­der­dog — and also a mem­ber of the wave class of 2010. Stutz­man is at­tempt­ing to tap in­to the col­lect­ive frus­tra­tion felt by that group, many of whom feel they are un­der­rep­res­en­ted in lead­er­ship and have little voice in the policy-mak­ing pro­cess.

“We ran on a prom­ise to find solu­tions to the prob­lems that have plagued Wash­ing­ton for so many years. We’ve rolled up our sleeves, learned the ropes, and worked as a team with the en­tire con­fer­ence to get many valu­able things done,” Stutz­man wrote in a let­ter to col­leagues Monday aimed spe­cific­ally at his 2010 class­mates. “However, the more fa­mil­i­ar we’ve be­come with the pro­cess, the more I have per­son­ally seen spe­cif­ic things that could be im­proved.”

The front-run­ner in the whip’s race, Rep. Steve Scal­ise, is also ar­guing that lead­er­ship does not ap­pro­pri­ately re­flect the com­pos­i­tion of the con­fer­ence — but in a very dif­fer­ent way. Scal­ise, the Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee chair­man who hails from Louisi­ana, is selling col­leagues on the idea that lead­er­ship needs a “red-state con­ser­vat­ive” to rec­ti­fy its ideo­lo­gic­al and geo­graph­ic­al im­bal­ance. That ar­gu­ment seems to be res­on­at­ing among mem­bers; Scal­ise is run­ning ahead of the com­pet­i­tion (though his can­did­acy could be de­railed if he doesn’t win an out­right ma­jor­ity of votes on the first bal­lot).

The man who hopes to force Scal­ise to a second bal­lot, Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois, is not run­ning his cam­paign as a re­buke of lead­er­ship. That’s be­cause Roskam, as the cur­rent chief deputy whip, is part of that team. In­stead he is cast­ing him­self as someone who can unite a frac­tured con­fer­ence, ar­guing that he pos­sesses the skills and ex­per­i­ence needed to rally House Re­pub­lic­ans around a com­mon pur­pose.

“By defin­i­tion, the whip job is col­lab­or­at­ive, and has to draw on re­la­tion­ships that tran­scend bound­ar­ies and groups,” Roskam wrote in a let­ter to GOP law­makers Fri­day. “At this tu­mul­tu­ous time for our con­fer­ence, I think it is more im­port­ant to have the skills ne­ces­sary to line up votes than to check a geo­graph­ic­al box.”

Roskam real­izes he’s lag­ging be­hind Scal­ise, his sup­port­ers say, but is keep­ing the cam­paign in per­spect­ive. “If I can’t whip the votes to win this elec­tion, then I don’t de­serve to be the whip,” Roskam told his friends on Tues­day, ac­cord­ing to Rep. Tim Wal­berg, R-Mich.

It’s no ac­ci­dent that Roskam’s ar­gu­ment is a dir­ect re­but­tal to Scal­ise’s. Roskam knows that he must hold Scal­ise, whose team boasts more than 100 iron­clad com­mit­ments, un­der the “ma­gic num­ber” of 117 votes.

If Scal­ise hits 117, he’s got an out­right ma­jor­ity and wins the whip race. But if he se­cures few­er than 117 on the first bal­lot, the third-place con­test­ant — widely ex­pec­ted to be Stutz­man — will be elim­in­ated. The top two fin­ish­ers will then go head-to-head, com­pet­ing for the newly re­leased voters whose can­did­ate failed to ad­vance. That scen­ario could fa­vor Roskam, who has been work­ing Stutz­man’s sup­port­ers hard by tap­ping in­to some dis­il­lu­sion­ment with Scal­ise’s lead­er­ship of the RSC.

Scal­ise, aware that he may not pre­vail ini­tially, has been scram­bling to shore up sup­port on the second bal­lot, ac­cord­ing to sources in his camp. “Every call Steve makes, he’s ask­ing: “˜Will you be with me on the first bal­lot?’ ” said a House Re­pub­lic­an who is whip­ping for Scal­ise. “And, if they say no, he’s ask­ing: “˜Well, could you be with me on a second bal­lot?’ “

The com­pet­i­tion to win toss-up voters on a po­ten­tial second bal­lot seems likely to hinge on Stutz­man, whose base of sup­port is the class of 2010. Those sopho­more law­makers are aware that they could de­term­ine the out­come of the elec­tion. In fact, Rep. Aus­tin Scott, the 2010 class pres­id­ent, called for a meet­ing of those mem­bers Tues­day night.

The oth­er sig­ni­fic­ant vot­ing bloc be­ing tar­geted by whip can­did­ates is the 13-mem­ber Pennsylvania GOP del­eg­a­tion, which may choose to vote to­geth­er. Scal­ise is said to be tar­get­ing Rep. Joe Pitts, the del­eg­a­tion’s seni­or-most Re­pub­lic­an, to steer the group in­to his camp.

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