John Boehner+Kevin McCarthy

House Speaker John Boehner flanked by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

By Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan
09/28/15 – 05:12 AM EDT

  • He’s the overwhelming favorite to replace John Boehner but the Freedom Caucus still presents a big hurdle.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy has glided to victory in each of his leadership races — one for majority whip, and two for majority leader — by simply winning the support of more than half the members of the Republican Conference.

To become the 54th speaker of the House, though, he’ll need to do something he’s never done before: find 218 supporters on the floor.

And with room to lose only 29 Republican members, that will require the Californian to navigate the same political currents — inside the Republican Conference, and the party as a whole — that dogged Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) during his five years in power.

McCarthy has quietly launched his campaign for speaker and is considered the overwhelming favorite to win. An official announcement of his candidacy isn’t expected for several days.

But McCarthy’s cellphones — he has two, a BlackBerry and an iPhone — are ringing off the hook. In a break from his normal practice of heading to California or out on the road to raise money for colleagues, McCarthy stayed in Washington over the weekend. He made countless phone calls and has locked up significant support, though he hasn’t yet reached the magic number of 218, sources familiar with his operation said.

This week will be critical. McCarthy expects to meet with four key voting blocs soon — the House Freedom Caucus, and the Republican delegations from Pennsylvania and Texas. He also plans to meet with the Tuesday Group, a collection of moderate Republicans.

McCarthy’s office declined to comment for this report.

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