WASHINGTON — Rep. Pete Sessions dropped out of the race for House majority leader late Thursday, leaving current Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy as the only candidate in the race.
Sessions, R-Texas, released a statement announcing his exit: "Today, it became obvious to me that the measures necessary to run a successful campaign would have created unnecessary and painful division within our party."
Earlier Thursday, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, also dropped out of the running. McCarthy, R-Calif., has been considered the favorite ever since current Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary on Tuesday. Cantor, R-Va., announced Wednesday that he would resign as majority leader on July 31. The election for his successor is June 19.
A win by McCarthy, in just his fourth term, would complete a remarkable transformation for the affable Californian, who just a year ago was dogged by criticism that he wasn't tough enough to persuade recalcitrant GOP lawmakers to vote with the leadership on critically important issues.
He also faced questions about whether his policy chops were substantive enough for the job.
In the face of those difficulties, McCarthy, 49, went to work; he continued building personal relationships within the sprawling 233-member Republican Conference, deploying every networking tool at his disposal: small dinners, workouts in the House gym, long bike rides up the C&O Canal.
Almost no lawmaker was left unattended, including those who had been cast aside by past leaders.
"He's a savant of relationships," said Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., a former member of leadership in the Arizona state legislature. "He's better at it than almost anyone I've ever seen."
First elected in 2006, McCarthy would be second in rank to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and well-situated to claim the gavel himself one day.
A one-time deli owner who rails against government regulation but shies away from the culture-war issues of abortion, gay marriage and guns, McCarthy is a fairly typical business conservative. He learned the machinations of Congress working for ex-Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., the irascible chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
McCarthy replaced Thomas in 2007 and immediately projected a reverse image — where Thomas was a policy wonk who would browbeat friend and foe alike, McCarthy was a charmer who focused on the insider-politics of the U.S. Capitol.
McCarthy became majority whip in 2011 when Republicans took control of the House, making him the top vote counter.