WASHINGTON — Top conservative outside groups say they won't play in the contested Republican House leadership race for majority whip.
Two of the three candidates for whip, Reps. Steve Scalise and Marlin Stutzman, have longstanding ties to the conservative movement, but so far have been mostly unable to wrangle any public support from leading groups like FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, and others.
After Eric Cantor's surprise defeat and decision to step down as majority leader, current Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy announced he would run to succeed him — a bid some expected would draw a big challenge from conservatives. Instead, McCarthy is all but guaranteed to win, and the race for whip has instead become the more contested affair.
The whip vote on Thursday is expected to be tight and could possibly go a second ballot. No candidate is yet claiming to have a majority of votes.
FreedomWorks says it is skipping the whip battle because the group is more focused on the majority leader race and supporting long-shot candidate Raul Labrador. The group is actively asking its members to call their congressman and ask them to vote for the Idaho Republican.
"A lot of fiscal conservatives are behind Stutzman, but either Stutzman or Scalise would be an upgrade," said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks. "We are sitting this round out, but there will be a whole new round of leadership fights after the election."
Club For Growth, another conservative group that doles out a lot of campaign cash for candidates in regular election cycles, said they wouldn't get involved in the leadership races at all.
"We don't take a position on leadership races," said Barney Keller, a spokesman for Club for Growth. "Our view is that if our PAC helps elect enough champions of economic freedom, then they'll elect one of their own as leader."
Tea Party Patriots is also staying out. Representatives for the group said that's because Jenny Beth Martin, the group's president, hasn't "discussed with the local coordinators and received their input."
When asked if they plan to come to a consensus on who to support before Thursday's vote, Diana Banister, whose firm represents Tea Party Patriots, emailed, "They are focused on the [Mississippi] senate race right now."
Heritage Action didn't respond to multiple requests for comment. But the group does keep a "scorecard" of how conservatively members vote. The whip race's reported frontrunner, Rep. Peter Roskam, bottoms out at 52%, but Scalise and Stutzman are neck-and-neck with scores of 81% and 84% respectively.
Roskam fell out of grace with the party's more conservative wing because of his perceived close ties to current "establishment" leadership.
But Scalise has also taken criticism from the right, particularly surrounding his leadership of the Republican Study Committee. In December, he fired RSC executive director Paul Teller, amid allegations he provided outside conservative groups with inside information about the RSC. Teller now works for Sen. Ted Cruz.