No matter what happens next week, the full slate of leaders will face another vote in November or early December after the midterms. Conservative challengers who passed on this rapid race now have more than five months to prepare anew and build up their base of support within the conference.

In his Thursday statement announcing his decision not to run, Hensarling said he had concluded that this was “not the right race at the right time” – a signal he is keeping his options open and could challenge McCarthy or Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in the fall.

Even before Cantor’s loss, the conference’s right flank was already gunning for Boehner, who reiterated to his members on Wednesday that he plans to seek a third term with the gavel after the elections.

One conservative operative, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Labrador’s move to challenge McCarthy now could set up another, more serious race in the fall, if only by denying McCarthy the coronation he was expecting.

“Labrador stepping into the void really does lay the groundwork,” the operative said. “The predicate is there for something to happen in November.”