The race to succeed Paul Ryan as the leader of the House Republican conference is on, and the two most likely candidates are already loading up their campaign finance arsenals for what could turn into a slugfest for the job.
A key to following Ryan is matching his fundraising prowess, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has a hefty advantage over his potential rival, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., after the first quarter of this year.
Scalise has repeatedly said he will not run against McCarthy for the job. Yet lawmakers tell CNBC on the condition of anonymity that Scalise's name continues to be floated as an underdog for the post, provided he shows that he can raise enough money – and not just for his own campaign but for the party as a whole.
McCarthy's campaign raised $8.75 million during the first three months of 2018, according to financial disclosure information a campaign aide provided to CNBC. He has also transferred $2.9 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is dedicated to helping GOP candidates get elected to the House.
Scalise, on the other hand, announced a fundraising haul of $3 million during the quarter. His campaign transferred $1 million to the NRCC and donated $650,000 to other GOP candidates.
Each candidate is running for re-election in their respective districts, and they have the backing of influential executives.
McCarthy's joint fundraising committee, the McCarthy Victory Fund, has received the support of real estate firm Western National Group, with individuals employees of the company giving $538,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Members of private equity firm the Carlyle Group have given $100,000 to the committee, as well.
Scalise's fundraising operation has been expanding, however. So far in 2018, employees of the pharmaceutical distributor Morris & Dickson have given $16,200 to the Scalise campaign, while the political action committee of medical insurance company Blue Cross/ Blue Shield has donated $11,000.
The lawmaker's joint committee, the Scalise Leadership Fund, has reeled in $244,000 from employees of Harvey Gulf International Marine, which provides marine transportation for deepwater operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Employees of Cajun Industries, a leading construction firm in Scalise's home state of Louisiana, gave $102,000 to the committee.
Ryan's sudden announcement Wednesday sent lawmakers scrambling to figure out who will take become the next Republican leader in the House, with Scalise and McCarthy emerging as the most likely ones to step up.
Ryan's successor as leader of the House GOP will have some big fundraising shoes to fill, as the Wisconsin Republican was known for going on the road to raise money for the party.
"Campaign fundraising and money will play a large role in the race for Ryan's job," political strategist Hank Sheinkopf told CNBC. "Can they inspire the mega-donors to give individual contributions? They need to be able to inspire people to support the party and lead it, all at the same time."
Team Ryan, the speaker's joint fundraising committee, raised a record $11 million in the first quarter of 2018 and transferred more than $40 million from its war chest to the NRCC.
Ryan is preparing for his eventual departure, but will continue to help raise funds for Republican House members while also working to bring in the cash to his political action committee, Prosperity Action, and the NRCC, according to campaign aides.