Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is expected to easily win his race to replace Eric Cantor as majority leader, when the latter steps down at the end of July. And Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., has the advantage in a three-man race to replace McCarthy as whip.
Thursday's election is something of a dry run for the end of the year, when everyone on the leadership will be up for re-election, including Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Cantor had been Boehner's heir apparent for speaker, perhaps as soon as next spring, but his defeat at the hands of tea party conservative Dave Brat last week has upended those plans.
And conservatives hoping the midterms will swing Congress their direction are looking ahead to the end of the year, considering the next leadership elections, if not Thursday's, as an opportunity to inject their own interests into the House's priorities.
"Half of our leaders ought to be from the conservative half of our conference," Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala, explained. "Right now we're 0-for-4. Red states, all four are from blue or purple states. We're 0-for-4 with the conservatives, even though the red staters produce 60 percent of our members. In the South -- we have nobody from House leadership from the Southern states, although we produce roughly 30 percent of the GOP Conference membership."
McCarthy is facing a challenge from Idaho conservative Raul Labrador, but should he become majority leader next month, he would be next in line to replace Boehner when he puts down the gavel. But if conservatives can convince more of their colleagues that blue-state Republicans wield too much power, the next House speaker could be someone else entirely -- perhaps Rep. Jeb Hensarling, or Pete Sessions, both of Texas, who considered, then declined to run for majority leader.
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