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The GOP’s establishment and conservative wings each notched a victory Thursday as House Republicans elected two top leaders in a contest that highlighted strains within the party.
Members promoted Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California – who had been the third in command to House Speaker John Boehner – to the powerful post of House Majority Leader previously held by Virginia’s Eric Cantor. Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the head of the 176-member conservative Republican Study Committee, won the election to replace McCarthy as the Majority Whip position.
"I'll make one promise," McCarthy told reporters after the election. "I will work every single day to make sure this conference has the courage to lead with the wisdom to listen, and we’ll turn this country around."
Despite early suggestions that conservatives would mount a considerable fight for the position, McCarthy’s ascension became a fait accompli last week when numerous contenders took their names out of the running. Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, a favorite of Tea Party-affiliated members, launched a late bid against McCarthy but jumped into the race after his rival had already solidified support.
McCarthy, known as an affable and effective Whip, will now put his policy-making prowess and considerable fundraising abilities to use as Boehner’s top lieutenant.
Scalise, for his part, beat back challengers Pete Roskam of Illinois and Marlin Stutzman of Indiana. He won the whip election on the first ballot, even after speculation that no candidate would obtain the needed majority to advance after one vote.
Scalise, who promised to "bring a fresh new voice to the leadership table," declined to say his victory should be seen as a win for the Tea Party.
"This is a win for America, because we're going to be a more united team moving forward," he said.
The Louisiana lawmaker, who will take over the job of corralling members of the party and counting votes before major floor action, brings with him a keen ear for the concerns of the party’s most conservative lawmakers.
A southern Republican from a ruby red state, he’ll also be viewed as a counter to Boehner and McCarthy, who hail from states won by Barack Obama in the previous two elections.