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House GOP Whip Race Heats Up: Tea Partier Steve Scalise Gets Big Boost

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AP Photo / Manuel Balce Ceneta

Scalise has won the backing of House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), who is building support for him, according to people familiar with the matter. Team Scalise says he has secured more than 100 votes and is getting closer to the 117 votes needed to guarantee a victory.

Roskam, as McCarthy's top deputy, is arguably a more natural successor. His boosters say he understands the job best, having done it for three-and-a-half years, and argue that candidates like Scalise and Stutzman -- who sometimes vote against leadership -- aren't best equipped to do the job of uniting the conference around leadership's initiatives. A person close to Roskam's whip effort said his support is "strongly in the 90s" and improving, insisting that Scalise is over-emphasizing his strength in the race.

"By definition, the Whip job is collaborative, and has to draw on relationships that transcend boundaries and groups. 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 wrote in a letter Friday to Republicans asking for their support. "We can and should ensure the broadest possible voices in the Conference are heard and get the best candidate with the best abilities in the Majority Whip post."

Scalise, first elected in 2008, chairs the Republican Study Committee, a bastion of right-wing policy ideas that boasts some 170 members. Scalise isn't viewed as the worst sort of troublemaker but he has voted against leadership on key bills such as the debt limit agreement of 2011, the bill to re-open the government and avert default in 2013 and the two-year budget agreement in January.

The relationships he has built as RSC chief will help his cause, as will his red-state roots; some Republicans complain that all four top GOP leaders are from a state that voted for President Barack Obama twice.

Roskam, conscious of that gripe, promised in his letter that "should I be entrusted with the Majority Whip responsibility, my Chief Deputy Whip will be from a red state." The source close to Roskam's bid acknowledged that Scalise's red-state argument has won him some support but said, "This whole idea that [Scalise] has got it locked up -- he's literally been saying that since Thursday. There's a bit too much of a victory lap in the press."

Stutzman pitched himself as the change candidate to respond to the political earthquake that resulted from Eric Cantor's shocking defeat. "In politics, we all know and recognize when the status quo has changed. When it does, we have to re-examine our course while remembering our core principles," he wrote in a Dear Colleague letter on Monday. He made four promises to members if elected whip, including advance notifications before votes and "timely copies" of bill text prior to floor votes -- two things Republicans leaders haven't always done, drawing complaints from some members.

The Indiana congressman's office wouldn't say how many votes he has secured so far.

Stutzman gained national attention during the government shutdown in October after he was quoted by the Washington Examiner as saying, "We're not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is." Senate Democratic leaders held a press conference based on his comment and mockingly apologized to him if he felt disrespected.

Of course, there won't be a race for whip if McCarthy loses. Several potential candidates last week opted not to run for majority leader, making it a race between McCarthy and Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID), a tea party upstart and late entrant. McCarthy is the clear favorite to win the race, although elements of the tea party base are trying to undermine him. Labrador didn't help his case over the weekend after the Idaho GOP Convention, which he chairs, descended into chaos and adjourned without electing a chairman or settling on an agenda.

The majority leader election will be on Thursday afternoon. If McCarthy wins, the whip election will subsequently be scheduled. Both elections are done by secret ballot.

About The Author

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.