How Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise Organzied and Won Their House Leadership Races

Just like a high school student body election, the keys to winning the GOP leadership race were making friends, starting early and giving out free food. 

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Just like a high school student body election, the keys to winning the GOP leadership race were making friends, starting early and giving out free food. Thursday was one of those rare days when the life of Capitol Hill resembles one of the less exciting episodes of House of Cards. After Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise won their races for House Majority Leader and Majority Whip, respectively, journalists tried to figure out just how they did it. Here's what they came up with:

Start early

A few leadership hopefuls delayed the start of their campaigns out of deference to Cantor. Those people lost. According to Politico, Scalise respected Cantor, but that didn't stop him from calling people the night he lost his re-election primary. Meanwhile Rep. Raúl Labrador, the only person who stayed in the race against McCarthy, didn't enter the race until Friday, when everyone had already gone home for the week.

Have a theme song

Nothing seems more obnoxious than a grown man blasting "Eye of the Tiger," but that's what Scalise did before heading in to the vote, according to The Washington Post. People still voted for him.

Give out free food

Members of Congress make over $170,000 a year, but are somehow still enticed by the idea of free food. The quality of the free food may matter. For example, Rep. Peter Roskam gave out burgers in his office to people who supported him. Scalise, on the other hand, took 40 allies to an upscale Louisiana Creole restaurant in Washington. "Even in a powerful institution like the House, the strength of a candidacy is measured by its free food," wrote The Post. "And Scalise’s food was solid."

The man with the biggest entourage wins

Technically, the man (everyone running for both positions was a man) with the most votes wins, but in a leadership election an entourage is a status symbol. Here's how The Post described the crews of the Majority Whip candidates:

Scalise led his procession, with his theme song rocking. Roskam had also aimed for a similar kind of choreography. But his procession was smaller: About a half-dozen lawmakers gathered to walk with him to the meeting. “Roskam! Roskam!” chanted Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) as she arrived ... Stutzman, the third candidate, had an entourage so small it didn’t fill an elevator.

Friends make good allies

Just like in real life, it helps when people like you. The Hill noted that lawmakers see McCarthy as an easy-going guy who plays basketball with them. They also, as The New York Times explained, see him as pragmatic and more inclusive than Cantor. Part of that is because McCarthy has a natural gift for politics. Kevin Spacey said Frank Underwood, the savvy politician he plays on Netflix's House of Cards, was inspired in part by Rep. McCarthy. In this instance he means the networking and strategizing, not the pushing reporters off subway platforms. 

Get people's phone numbers

You would think House Republicans would have a contact list with people's cell numbers floating around, but apparently only the savviest members have everyone's contact info. As The Washington Examiner reported earlier this week, Labrador didn't have people's basic contact information and had never reached out to many of his colleagues. Not surprisingly, it's easier to get people to vote for you if you 1) have talked to them at least once and 2) have a way to reach them in a hurry.

McCarthy's phone number game was strong. The Post wrote that McCarthy's team had a list of allies and checked people in as they showed up to the vote. Anyone who didn't show up got a phone call.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.