Two Texans, Reps. Pete Sessions and Jeb Hensarling, are in the mix to replace House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who lost Tuesday’s primary in a stunning upset.
Cantor announced that he will step down as leader July 31, setting off a mad scramble for a rare leadership opening.
Cantor endorsed the heir apparent, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in the election, set for June 19.
Sessions and Hensarling, both Dallas Republicans, are already chairmen of top committees, with Sessions leading the Rules Committee and Hensarling the Financial Services Committee.
Sessions’ office confirmed that he is seeking the leadership post while Hensarling, presumed to be running by Capitol Hill observers, stopped short of saying he was entering the race.
“I am humbled by the many people who have approached me about serving our Republican Conference in a different capacity in the future,” Hensarling said in a statement. “There are many ways to advance the causes of freedom and free enterprise, and I am prayerfully considering the best way I can serve in those efforts.”
The two Texans have a built-in advantage given the size of the Lone Star State’s Republican delegation — 24 members. But having two candidates in the race blunts that edge.
The potential rivalry led Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, to call a meeting of the Texas GOP delegation to discuss the majority leader race only a week away.
Both Sessions and Hensarling attended, but aides to several Texas Republicans said they do not think that all the members attended and know of no resolution. The GOP delegation meets today for its weekly lunch, and members are expected to discuss the leadership race.
Sessions and Hensarling would also benefit from clamoring among many members for a red-state leader since the other members of the leadership come from either blue (Democratic) or purple (swing) states.
Despite the size of Texas’ delegation, the state has no members in elected leadership.
Sessions, who was making calls Tuesday night looking for support as Cantor lost the election, taps into the mainstream forces led by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Hensarling has positioned himself as more conservative than Boehner and is often mentioned as a possible challenger to the speaker. Hensarling was chairman of the House Republican Conference from 2011 to 2013.