Washington (CNN, June 19, 2014) — House Republicans on Thursday elected Kevin McCarthy as majority leader, succeeding Eric Cantor, who is relinquishing the job after losing his primary election in an upset.
The California Republican defeated Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador for the No. 2 position, which is responsible for the day-to-day running of the chamber and deciding which bills come to the floor for a vote.
Labrador argued for a fresh conservative voice in the GOP leadership in challenging McCarthy, who was the favorite.
With the win, McCarthy moves up a notch in the leadership hierarchy from whip, where he was responsible for counting votes and enforcing party discipline. Republicans then chose Louisiana’s Steve Scalise, a red-state conservative, to succeed him.
Operationally, few expect McCarthy’s rise to significantly change how Republicans run the House.
Supporters say Republican proposals will come largely from committees and McCarthy’s mainly will focus on using his political skills to help shape the GOP message and strategy to push its agenda, and help coordinate with Senate Republicans, who are in the minority.
Following Cantor’s loss to a political upstart in Virginia last week, McCarthy began to quietly reach out to members, using his extensive network as whip to build support.
Underneath his easy demeanor is an intensely political operative, who helped recruit and fundraise for most of the first- and second-term GOP members, who make up a sizeable part of the conference.
He can cite polls from various congressional districts across the country off the top of his head. Because he lives in his Washington office when Congress is in session, McCarthy spends a lot of time hosting take-out dinners and working out in the House gym.
Personal relationships helped him quickly accumulate commitments to win the majority leader’s post.
Typically the majority leader is the speaker in waiting, but McCarthy would almost certainly face a conservative challenger if the current speaker, John Boehner, decides to step down after the midterm elections.
Some members on the right see McCarthy as the establishment candidate, and disagree with his position on immigration, a hot-button issue.
McCarthy, who represents an agricultural district, has expressed support for some type of legal status for undocumented workers.
Before last week’s stunning upset of Cantor many considered McCarthy as potentially the most vulnerable member of the House Republican leadership team.
During his tenure as whip, there were several embarrassing episodes, when high profile bills — such as the farm bill and GOP debt limit plans — failed to pass.
Because Thursday’s election’s only installs McCarthy as majority leader for the remainder of the current Congress, the next five months will be a test for him.
He could face a challenge in the fall when all GOP leaders stand for re-election — whether it’s for the top spot or for majority leader.
Texas Republican Rep Jeb Hensarling, who briefly considered a bid for Cantor’s post, may decide to run against him.