Report: Jeb Hensarling drops out of majority leader race, Kevin McCarthy locking up votes; Update: Next Congress?

Reminds me a tiny bit of the run-up to the 2012 primaries, when we heard lots of rhetoric from people like Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie about how important the election was to the country’s future, just … not so important that they’d upset their own lives by running in it.

Jeb Hensarling, the great conservative hope for majority leader and maybe eventually Speaker, is reportedly out:

Rep. Jeb Hensarling will not run for House majority leader in next week’s special election, according to a source familiar with his decision.

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, who already has begun whipping votes to succeed outgoing Majority Leader Eric Cantor, now has a wide-open path to the No. 2 spot in House Republican leadership.

Hensarling’s decision is a blow to House conservatives, as he was the last of their preferred candidates to be seriously considering a run against McCarthy.

For the sizable bloc of tea party-allied lawmakers who have been fixated on injecting fresh blood into the upper-most echelons of GOP leadership, there are only a few who they view as legitimate, acceptable candidates besides Hensarling: Paul Ryan, Jim Jordan, and Tom Price.

Hensarling was coy yesterday but rumblings in the halls of the Capitol made it seem like he was ready to challenge McCarthy, Cantor’s handpicked successor. What happened overnight? Sounds like McCarthy and his team moved quickly to lock up votes, which may have convinced Hensarling that any challenge was futile.

As the race to replace House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) began Wednesday afternoon, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and his allies adopted a motto: Speed kills.

Using his deep network of supporters, deputy whips and a paper-based scoring system that dates back to the House leadership races of the 1990s, McCarthy and his team were asserting momentum Wednesday night in the race to become the second-ranking House Republican, hoping to swiftly seal the deal as other contenders were still mulling whether to join the fray…

The team is using a numerical ranking system once used by former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) that McCarthy still believes is a smart way to track friends and foes. All 233 House Republicans are given a numerical ranking between one and five. A “1” means the colleague is a loyalist, while a “5” denotes a critic or someone who needs more convincing. Rankings for individual members are a closely guarded secret, aides said, but provide McCarthy with critical intelligence on who might need extra attention. Aides cautioned that the internal rankings would remain fluid up until votes are cast in the leadership race next Thursday.

Speed kills: With McCarthy using his resources as whip to line up support, Hensarling had little opportunity to make his case. Another factor may have been Pete Sessions’s interest in challenging McCarthy. House conservatives would prefer someone else but Sessions is senior to Hensarling in the Texas delegation, which, per Robert Costa, may have made Hensarling reluctant to run. So it looks like it’s McCarthy versus Sessions, with the establishment choice naturally the favorite.

In other words, a day after Eric Cantor was thrown out of the House for being too cozy with Washington, Washington Republicans are set to make Cantor’s right-hand man their new leader. Erick Erickson on McCarthy:

The American Conservative Union, which measures Republican-ness of members, gives Eric Cantor an 84% rating and Kevin McCarthy a 72% rating for 2013.

Kevin McCarthy voted for the bloated Hurricane Sandy relief package that even New Jersey Democrats said was riddled with corruption and more than needed. He opposed reforms to the flood insurance program that would save taxpayers’ money. He has also oppose both Republican Study Committee budget proposals and a widely hailed government reform measure that conservatives broadly supported.

Kevin McCarthy voted for the massive food stamp and farm bill opposed by conservatives. In fact, a majority of Republicans rejected it, but McCarthy aligned himself with Democrats to try to get it passed. He has refused to reform the federal sugar program using free market principles. He has refused to limit crop insurance subsidies. He has refused to cut $1.5 billion from the Department of Energy’s bloated budget.

He also supports legalizing illegals as part of an immigration reform deal, albeit without a “special path to citizenship,” so yeah, reform will still be very much on the table in the next Congress. Not that there was much doubt about that, but this cinches it.

Here’s Chuck Todd telling Hugh Hewitt last night that he thought Cantor’s endorsement of McCarthy was a “kiss of death.” Nope. Never underestimate congressional Republicans’ preference for the status quo.

Update: Well, there you go.

Update: Hensarling et al. are reportedly considering taking on McCarthy in the next Congress, which means McCarthy will probably stick with a conservative agenda for the next six months to guard his right flank. Consolation prize?