Rep. Marlin Stutzman is showing enough strength in the race for House majority whip that some Republicans monitoring the contest are predicting it could go to a second ballot.
The Indiana Republican’s entry into the fray late last week was dismissed as a strategic move to boost an eventual bid for chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the influential caucus of House conservatives.
But some Republicans are now speculating that Stutzman, not Majority Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, R-Ill., could end up joining leading candidate, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the current RSC chairman, in a head-to-head second ballot runoff.
"Stutzman is interesting to watch," a Republican source said in an email. "He obviously has the support of the core 20 hard-liners, but he's now drawing a lot of the Class of 2010 (78 members!) which seems to be hurting Roskam more than Scalise. If Marlin and Scalise get to a second ballot as opposed to Roskam, all bets are off."
"I think his entrance into the race makes it a second ballot contest," added a House Republican, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Competitive contests for congressional leadership are hard to gauge. Members vote by secret ballot, and are notorious for guarding their choice while simultaneously suggesting to multiple candidates that they are supportive of them. About the only guaranteed votes a candidate is likely to have are the members who are on his whip team and actively encouraging other members’ support.
“You got a lie factor up here that you have to consider,” Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., who flirted with running for majority whip, told reporters last week. “Anybody that tells you they’re for you, you have to kind of have to put them down in a different column. The only people that’s going to tell you the truth is the one that looks you straight in the eye and says, 'I’m not voting for you.' You can put him down in the 'no' column.”
Technically, there will be no election for a new majority whip if the current No. 3 ranking Republican, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, doesn't win his race for majority leader. But with McCarthy likely to advance over long-shot challenger, Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, House Republicans are preparing for the vote, scheduled for Thursday. Here's where the race stands, according to supporters of each of the three candidates:
The Louisiana congressman had been preparing to run for whip in November, when the next regularly scheduled leadership elections were to be held. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's loss in a Virginia primary, and forthcoming move to step down from his leadership post, merely sped up Scalise's time table. Scalise's supporters are attempting to give him the air of inevitability. They are cautiously claiming that he appears to have locked up enough votes to win on a first ballot, and point to his broad array of backing from establishment and more conservative members.
The Scalise pitch is about assuaging the desire of many conservatives that see at least one senior leadership post occupied by a member from a red state. Currently, the top five GOP leaders hail from either blue states or swing states. However, because Scalise also is viewed as a pragmatist who understands that not every district is a safe for re-election as his own, many Establishment Republicans favor his election to the whip post as a way to forge more conference unity and diffuse the frustration with senior leadership that had been building prior to Cantor’s defeat.
“Those things are very, very big factors in this race,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who is whipping for Scalise. “Geographically you probably need more balance at the table.”
The chief deputy whip’s partisans concede that he’s trailing Scalise in the horse race. But they argue that Roskam has done a better job at counting votes, and that his commitments are more likely to come through when members fill out their ballots, putting the aspiring Illinois Republican in a better position than is assumed.
Roskam's pitch to members is that his time as chief deputy whip has better prepared him for the job and that he would be more unifying than Scalise. His whip team includes conservative stalwarts like Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who is chairman of the special committee on Benghazi. Roskam backers argue that if Scalise was really the conservative alternative capable of uniting the conference, Republicans like Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio wouldn't be whipping for Stutzman.
They also note that Scalise worked against House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas on the floor insurance bill that pitted conservatives against their more pragmatic colleagues. Still, to satisfy conservatives' concerns, Roskam is promising to appoint a red state Republican as his chief deputy whip.
“Don’t say you have the votes if you don’t,” a Roskam supporter said. “Members don’t like that.”
The ambitious Hoosier’s base of support is squarely in the insurgent camp of the conference, but also includes a few outliers, such as Reps. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin and Tom Reed of New York. Stutzman has walked the line between the insurgent and Establishment camps, sometimes rejecting key legislation favored by House GOP leaders while maintaining his ties to them through fundraising and other political activities.
Stuzman released a letter on Monday outlining how he would run the whip operation, and sources said it would focus on reforming the legislative process to rely more on “regular order” and the committee process. In a subtle swipe at McCarthy, Stutzman also is promising members more communication in advance of bringing legislation to the floor. His strategy on completing an unlikely victory relies on pushing the voting to a second ballot that includes him and one of the other two candidates.
Over the weekend, Stutzman supporters were claiming a whip count of around 50. “People are saying [to Stutzman,] ‘You have my second ballot,’” said one Republican who favors the Indiana congressman.