The dominoes don't stop falling there.
If McCarthy wins the majority leader's post next Thursday, there will be an immediate and subsequent contest to replace him as majority whip. It was thought that this race would feature Representatives Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Peter Roskam of Illinois going head-to-head, and senior Republicans pegged Scalise as the odds-on favorite. But Representative Marlin Stutzman let it be known Thursday morning that he, too, will run, complicating the math of that contest as Stutzman could draw some conservative support away from Scalise.
Scalise's team pushed back against that notion Thursday afternoon, and one ally of the Louisiana Republican even argued that Scalise was close to clinching "the magic number" of supporters needed to sew up the race for majority whip. Scalise hoped to have the race wrapped up by Thursday evening when lawmakers leave town for the weekend, although that seems highly unlikely.
Stutzman, a third-term lawmaker from Indiana, is popular in the conference and especially well-liked by the young conservatives who comprised the classes of 2010 and 2012. He also enjoys good relations with powerful conservative groups outside the Capitol. Stutzman may be a more attractive option to the younger Republican Study Committee members than Scalise, whose leadership of the group—some call it a "debate society"—has drawn grumbles from some members looking for a more assertive approach.
It's not clear that Stutzman can win—odds are, he probably can't—but if he successfully splinters the conservative vote, Roskam could claim the whip's office with a coalition of moderates and establishment-friendly conservatives.
Whatever the outcome, the whip's race seems destined to be more competitive and suspenseful than the contest to replace Cantor. McCarthy, whose vote-counting operation was humming as of Wednesday morning, starts the contest with a significant lead on a possible challenger.
Before exiting the race, Sessions had one factor working in his favor: the size of the Texas delegation. Twenty-four House Republicans hail from the Lone Star state, and Republican sources expected the vast majority of them to back Sessions.
But one member of the Texas delegation, Representative John Carter, conceded that McCarthy may've had a head start on Sessions. "Roy Blunt told me he had it sewn up, too. But John Boehner is speaker," Carter said, referring to a bygone GOP leadership race.
In a statement bowing out Thursday night, Sessions said that "it became obvious to me that the measures necessary to run a successful campaign would have created unnecessary and painful division within our party."
Hensarling's decision was a blow to the GOP's right flank, as he was the last of their preferred candidates to be seriously considering a run against McCarthy. For the sizable bloc of Tea Party-allied lawmakers who have been fixated on injecting fresh blood into the upper echelons of GOP leadership, there are only a few whom they view as legitimate, acceptable candidates besides Hensarling: Paul Ryan, Jim Jordan, and Tom Price.