In Cantor's primary election in Virginia last week, the purists won. A virtually unknown insurgent, economics professor Dave Brat, defied all predictions to beat the majority leader, who then announced his resignation from his leadership post. The establishment quickly struck back, maintaining its hold on the top two slots in the House as Speaker John Boehner of Ohio remained unchallenged and McCarthy moved swiftly to all but cement his ascent.
That left the whip job likely up for grabs and the focus of a charged campaign.
If there is a front-runner, it might be Scalise, 48, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee in the House and hails from the red-state South, a regional and political perspective that's now missing in House leadership and that many Southerners, and others, say is needed. Scalise is presenting himself as a strong conservative but one who can work with establishment-aligned leaders, not just throw bombs.
"We've proven you can pass conservative policy that unites our conference," Scalise said Tuesday evening after meeting with Pennsylvania Republicans to make his pitch. "Because I think there was some feeling for a while that there was a conflict between the two, that it was either one or the other. And we've shown that there's a different way you can do this."
Roskam, 52, now serves as McCarthy's chief deputy and can make the case that he already knows the job and can count votes. To counter the regional argument, he's promised to appoint a red-state lawmaker as his own chief deputy.
"There is a heroic majority here, there is a majority in our conference that wants to move forward and do great things, and I want to be part of trying to bring that out," Roskam said after his own meeting with Pennsylvania lawmakers. He dismissed concerns about his conservative bona fides, noting he'd won election to the House in 2006, a tough year for Republicans when Democrats took back the House.