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Representatives cast their votes for House Speaker in the House chamber

Digging into each candidate for speaker

This is a very unusual contest for speaker.

We have nine candidates — some of them backbenchers — vying for the chamber’s top job in what can only be described as a do-or-die week in the House Republican Conference.

Here’s our assessment of each candidate besides House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, who we covered in The Top.

House Republican Conference Vice Chair Mike Johnson: Johnson, the GOP conference vice chair and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, has been in the leadership since 2021. The Louisiana Republican is a conservative who has an easy yet serious demeanor. We can see some on the right gravitating toward him. But does the GOP conference want a) to elevate someone already in the leadership and b) have two Louisianans at the leadership table?

The interesting dynamic is that Johnson and Reps. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) and Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) pull from the same base — socially conservative Southerners.

Florida Rep. Byron Donalds: Donalds is perhaps the most intriguing candidate of this field. The second-term lawmaker from southwestern Florida has friends across the conference. Donalds is a constant and charismatic presence on television; as we’ve mentioned, House Republicans care about that. And he’s been willing to work with GOP leadership to effect change.

Donalds’ weakness is do his colleagues see the 44-year-old, who has only been in politics for seven years, as ready to run the House? Donalds’ supporters say he has the verve, respect and support to be the speaker.

RSC Chair Kevin Hern: In the past, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee would have an easy path to advancing in a nine-way race. But the RSC has grown so large that it inevitably splinters between candidates. That said, Hern will pull from conservatives who want a forceful conservative as speaker.

Hern’s ideas are in the mainstream of contemporary conservative thought. The Oklahoma Republican’s calling card is that he was a successful businessman and that’s a useful skill for Congress. We assume he’ll advance past the first round of voting on Wednesday.

Michigan Rep. Jack Bergman: If you’re looking for someone who wants to run the House as a temporary assignment, Bergman is your pick. He’s a retired Marine general who’s been in Congress since 2017. We understand Bergman’s case for the gavel — let’s get a Republican in there who has nothing to lose and will do no harm — but that’s not exactly where the House GOP is at the moment. That said, he’s doing well with the Michigan delegation.

Georgia Rep. Austin Scott: Scott received a shocking 81 votes when he ran for speaker against Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) 10 days ago. That vote was mostly an anti-Jordan one, so temper your expectations as to what Scott will do now. But there’s a natural base of support for his candidacy. Scott is a defense hawk and the closest thing to a Bush-era Republican. Look toward appropriators and some members of the House Armed Services Committee for Scott supporters.

Texas Rep. Pete Sessions: We’ve been around for long enough to have covered several Sessions leadership races. Sessions was NRCC chair during the GOP’s historic win in the 2010 elections, yet he never moved up to a top leadership slot. The former chair of the Rules Committee lost his Dallas area seat to Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) in 2018, only to return in 2020 representing Waco. The one chance Sessions has here is if the Texas delegation somehow moves en masse to his side. We see this as pretty unlikely.

Alabama Rep. Gary Palmer: The Alabama Republican surprised many with his late entry into the race. Palmer is in his third term as chair of the Republican Policy Committee. He was a longtime player in Alabama conservative circles before winning a House seat in 2014.

Pennsylvania Rep. Dan Meuser: We wouldn’t be shocked if Meuser is the first one out in the internal party election Tuesday. The former business exec and state official has been in the House since 2019.

Now that we’ve talked about the politics of the speaker race, let’s discuss some policies for a moment.

We’ve decided to highlight how the candidates for speaker voted on five key issues: Certifying the 2020 election; the 2022 same-sex marriage vote; September’s $300 million Ukraine supplemental; McCarthy’s Fiscal Responsibility Act; and the stopgap funding bill that eventually ended McCarthy’s speakership.

— Jake Sherman

Presented by The Coalition to Project American Jobs

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.