House Republicans Tuesday voted to install their chief vote counter as the new majority leader, rejecting a more conservative but slightly less experienced opponent.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, 49, of California, who was elected in 2006 and now serves as House majority whip, will succeed current Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who plans to step down from the position on July 31.
But in the end, McCarthy’s experience, though limited by comparison to other House leaders, was enough of an asset to easily push him ahead of Labrador, 46, who won his seat in 2010 and has never served in leadership.
Labrador's support came almost exclusively from the most conservative faction of the GOP conference, including Tea Party backed lawmakers elected alongside Labrador in the 2010 cycle that handed Republicans the majority.
Labrador supporters said they believed he would create a more inclusive Republican conference that would incorporate the views of the conservative faction, which are often at odds with the current leadership when it comes to government spending and immigration reform.
“There are about 80 percent of the conference that feels neglected,” Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., a Labrador backer, said. “Like we are not relevant.”
But Labrador never had much of a chance to challenge McCarthy, who since 2011 has served as majority whip, a job that has enabled him to build personal connections with nearly every member of the GOP conference.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, set the June 19 election just a week ago, and members were back in their home districts nearly half of the time.
At the time, conservatives who opposed McCarthy quickly tried to solicit House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, to run against him, but he declined.
That left the less-connected Labrador little time to personally solicit member support in the kind of race that is almost exclusively driven by personal relationships and established reputations.
By the time Labrador jumped into the race on Friday, McCarthy was well on his way to securing support from more than half the 233 member GOP conference.
“I’m a believer in the idea that experience does matter,” Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., told the Washington Examiner, explaining his support for McCarthy. “When you’ve been in leadership, you know how to work with people.”
McCarthy, who once owned a deli and served as a California legislator, will take over the role of majority leader on Aug. 1, but Congress by then will have adjourned for the summer.
Lawmakers aren’t scheduled to return until the week of Sept. 8.
McCarthy will nonetheless have to hit the ground running.
He'll be in charge of devising a fall floor schedule that keeps Republican lawmakers safe in the politically treacherous months leading up to the November elections.
He’ll also have to crank up his fundraising efforts in order to fill a significant void left by Cantor.