Last Updated Jun 13, 2014 2:30 PM EDT
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is likely to step into House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's job after the Virginia Republican departs his leadership post at the end of July.
Currently the third most powerful House Republican, McCarthy announced his bid for majority leader, the number two post in House leadership, shortly after Cantor lost his reelection bid in a stunning primary election upset on Tuesday.
McCarthy was first elected to the House in 2006. He was previously an aide to former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., for a decade, and he succeeded Thomas when the congressman retired. He was elected by his GOP colleagues as majority whip after securing a third term in 2010.
A reliable conservative on most issues, McCarthy has built a more moderate profile on immigration reform. He is a co-sponsor of a bill to grant legal residency and a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who serve in the military, but he has not joined calls for a broader immigration reform package of the sort pushed by Democrats and some Senate Republicans.
It's been a tricky balancing act for the congressman, who has had to weigh the needs of his Bakersfield-area district, which is 35 percent Latino, against the opinion of the House Republican Conference, which remains largely opposed to a comprehensive immigration bill.
Due in part to McCarthy's nuanced stance on immigration, there were some early rumblings among the House Republicans' conservative wing about running one of their favored candidates for the coveted majority leader's post.
But by Thursday evening, all of McCarthy's most viable challengers had decided against a bid.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, was one name floated early by conservatives, but he said in a statement on Thursday that he wouldn't run.
"Although I am humbled by the calls, emails, and conversations from my colleagues encouraging me to return to leadership for the remainder of the 113th Congress, I will not be a candidate for Majority Leader next week," he announced, saying it was not the "right office at the right time."
That seemed to clear the field for Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, who'd publicly flirted with a run for majority leader. But his bid, too, was quickly short-circuited.
In a statement on Thursday evening announcing he wouldn't run, Sessions said the campaign "would have created unnecessary and painful division" within the GOP.
"At this critical time, we must remain unified as a Republican Conference," he said.
Sessions' withdrawal made McCarthy, whom Cantor endorsed as his successor, the prohibitive favorite in the leadership race, but the fight isn't over just yet: Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, declared his candidacy for majority leader on Friday.
"I want a House Leadership team that reflects the best of our conference," Labrador explained in a statement, citing a need for "new leadership, fresh ideas, and a different approach."
Labrador is popular with House conservatives, but his last-minute candidacy remains a long shot. If conservatives fail to defeat McCarthy in the race for majority leader, the majority whip post he'll leave behind could be an attractive consolation prize. Reps. Steve Scalise, R-La., Tom Price, R-Ga., and Peter Roskam, R-Ill., have all been touted as possibilities for that job.
The leadership elections, which will be decided by a secret ballot among the GOP conference, are scheduled for June 19.