More than 200 Republicans have committed to supporting him for speaker, according to multiple sources familiar with his operation. It far surpasses the simple majority of House Republicans he needs to win Thursday’s internal GOP vote but is still a bit shy of the 218 he needs on the House floor to become the next speaker. His team is exceedingly optimistic he’ll gather the requisite support before the Oct. 29 public vote.
Over the weekend, McCarthy headed to Hot Springs, Virginia, for his annual fall political action committee fundraising weekend. Surrounded by close allies from the business community, a relaxed McCarthy made short remarks and didn’t discuss his leadership election. Virginia Reps. Bob Goodlatte and Morgan Griffith attended the event with McCarthy.
In a brief interview with POLITICO on Tuesday, McCarthy said he felt “very good” about his prospects heading into Thursday’s vote. Asked as he exited the weekly Republican leadership meeting whether he’ll win the race on the first ballot — a near certainty — McCarthy asked a reporter, “What do you think?” and flashed a grin.
As McCarthy nears his election, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and his chief deputy, Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, saw their campaigns for leadership posts turn from a sprint into a marathon after Speaker John Boehner delayed lower-tier contests for three weeks. Scalise is favored for majority leader; his opponent, Georgia Rep. Tom Price, has not announced a significant number of public endorsements.
But Scalise faces a major challenge in holding together his coalition for several more weeks at a minimum, time that conservatives can use to draft an alternative candidate. If the House Freedom Caucus fails, however, to draft someone new into the race, Scalise will likely ascend to the No. 2 slot in November.
McHenry’s allies believe he’s wrapped up the whip race. Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, Florida Rep. Dennis Ross and Oklahoma Rep. Markwayne Mullin are also vying for the slot.
Scalise and McHenry know they don’t have a new position to celebrate yet, but on Tuesday night, the pair were slated to party at a joint birthday celebration in the Capitol Hill neighborhood Eastern Market. Scalise turned 50 on Tuesday, and McHenry turns 40 later this month. Chiefs of staff to Republican members of the House were given wristbands to attend the event.
Tickets ranged from $1,000 to $5,000, and a live band was expected to perform, as guests enjoyed “some NC and LA nibbles, an open bar and great company … and of course to support our favorite whip duo!” according to a copy of the invite.
Price’s 61st birthday is also this week. He is having a similar event Thursday night, where tickets range from $61 for a guest to $2,000 for a political action committee to host.
As Republicans wrangle votes, Democrats have tried to turn McCarthy into a political liability. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton launched a TV ad campaign inside the Beltway on Tuesday bashing McCarthy for suggesting Republicans used the GOP-created Benghazi committee to tank her run for the White House. Democratic lawmakers are now calling for the panel to be disbanded, and moving to force a vote on the issue.
McCarthy’s team has tried to walk the comments back, as he focuses on his intraparty challenge.
The internal Republican speaker vote on Thursday is just the opening act in a two-part drama that will consume the next month in the House.
Republican members will head to a Ways and Means Committee room in the Longworth House Office Building on Tuesday to choose their candidate for the top leadership post. The election begins at noon, and each of the three candidates — McCarthy, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Florida Rep. Daniel Webster — will be permitted to select one person to give a three-minute nominating speech, followed by up to two one-minute “seconding” speeches. McCarthy, who was nominated by Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry when he ran for leader last year, has not decided who will nominate him, an aide said.
Before the vote, speaker candidates will make their case to every caucus in the House. On Tuesday evening, the three contenders were preparing to meet with several conservative groups — including the House Freedom Caucus, Tea Party Caucus and House Liberty Caucus — for a question-and-answer session at the Capitol Hill Club.
The questions were expected to be mostly about procedural matters, but sources involved in the planning said a potential reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, long-term government funding and budget caps were also likely to come up.
On Wednesday, the Republican Study Committee will hold its candidate forum. The same day, House Republicans will discuss changes to party rules, one of which would force candidates to relinquish leadership posts and committee chairmanships to run for new slots.
McCarthy’s job won’t get any easier after the election. Should he win, he’ll be speaker-designate during a tumultuous three weeks before his floor vote. The most pressing issue on his plate during that time will be the debt ceiling, which must be lifted less than a week after the planned floor vote for speaker.