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Posted at 3:13 p.m. on June 19, 2014
Updated 3:32 p.m. | Republican members of the House elected Kevin McCarthy to be the next majority leader, sending a message of stability to their party in a time of unexpected unrest.
Behind the closed doors of the Ways and Means Committee room, in a secret ballot vote, the California Republican cemented the massive voting bloc he’s held from the earliest moments of the race. McCarthy, who was the majority whip, toppled conservative challenger Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho. Labrador had mounted a concerted media campaign.
The House doesn’t formally announce the tally, though it could leak.
Labrador’s campaign looked to capitalize on general frustration with leadership, as well as the message Virginia voters sent to the House after Majority Leader Eric Cantor suffered a stunning primary defeat on June 10.
In the end, Republicans chose the safe and expected candidate, elevating the No. 3 Republican to the No. 2 spot. Next up is choosing a new whip to replace McCarthy.
After Cantor announced last week his intention to step down from his leadership position on July 31, House Republicans were sent into an intense scramble to replace one of the more popular members of GOP leadership within the conference.
McCarthy’s campaign relied heavily on private conversations with members, mostly over the phone. McCarthy didn’t conduct a single media interview or even formally announce his candidacy in a release or “Dear Colleague” letter, a credit, perhaps, to the personal relationships he’s forged with members over the past three and a half years as whip. (He did, however, stop by the Congressional Women’s Softball Game Wednesday night to show his support for the lawmakers’ team, which won 10-5.)
McCarthy has been in Congress for just seven years, a historically short period of time for someone to become majority leader.
Once he takes the job, there are, according to the official House calendar, just 12 scheduled legislative days until the fall midterm elections, after which conservatives could mount a more serious challenge to leadership in general.
Labrador insisted until the last minute that he could — indeed, would — pull off a massive upset victory.
His strategy was dependent upon members using the secrecy of the ballot to turn their backs on McCarthy and send a message of discontent, but that didn’t materialize.
Instead, House Republicans sent a message of tacit endorsement of leadership’s direction, though McCarthy did seem to pick up many of the platforms Labrador was pushing.
During a candidate forum Wednesday morning, McCarthy made a pitch meant to address many of the frustrations Labrador was counting on to win.
“He really, I thought, just kind of adopted Raúl Labrador’s platform of, you know, making the committees more relevant, making the members more relevant, and relying a lot less on staff to make the decisions, and letting members actually, who are duly elected, take the role of calling the shots and moving legislation, instead of the unelected people who control this place,” Arizona Republican Matt Salmon said.
Salmon, one of Labrador’s firmest supporters, said “even if the status quo happens and we keep the same old tired folks in place, I feel like the message has been lodged loud and clear: Business as usual is not acceptable.”
This post has been updated to reflect the number of legislative days before the next leadership elections.