WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans gathered Wednesday to hear pitches from candidates vying to be their new leaders as conservatives hoped they wouldn't be shut out of a top spot.
"What we need right now is a strong leader, someone who listens to us," said Rep. Randy Hultgren of Illinois, as he entered the closed door GOP meeting in a Capitol basement meeting room. The contest for the No. 3 spot in the House GOP has turned into conservatives' last, best shot at joining the congressional leadership after getting shut out of the two top jobs in the shake-up that followed Majority Leader Eric Cantor's surprise primary defeat.
It has become an intense intramural clash with no certain outcome, as two candidates from different ideological outposts and regions of the country — a conservative Southerner and an establishment-aligned Midwesterner — are challenged by a third who could play the role of spoiler for tea party hopes.
All three — Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Peter Roskam of Illinois and Marlin Stutzman of Indiana — were set to make their case to rank-and-file Republicans ahead of a vote by the party caucus on Thursday.
The job they're vying for is majority whip, likely to become vacant because its current occupant, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, is the strong favorite to become the new majority leader in a separate vote, if he staves off a longshot challenge from conservative Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho.
The whip position is perhaps little known outside Washington — or at least was before Kevin Spacey's scheming portrayal on the Netflix program "House of Cards" — but it entails lining up the votes to ensure victory for the party's legislative agenda. And in this case, the contest itself has come to dramatize the deep feud within the GOP that pits conservative purists against lawmakers more aligned with the Republican establishment.