Photo Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Kevin McCarthy's knack for helping colleagues get elected and his ability to maintain a personal connection have given him the advantage in the race for House majority leader despite calls by some Republicans for a new, more conservative direction.

McCarthy, 49, who is serving just his fourth term from California, emerged Thursday as the clear front-runner to succeed Rep. Eric Cantor, whose loss in Virginia's GOP primary to a far-right candidate with little money and name recognition stunned the House and prompted questions about where it should turn as it fills its new leadership vacuum.

The leadership election is a week away and a lot can change during that span, but the list of competitors has evaporated. The strongest challenger, Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, took his name out of the running late Thursday as McCarthy's broad list of supporters gained by the hour, including influential chairmen such as Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, tea party favorites such as Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and more moderate members such as Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida.

Supporters said McCarthy moved quickly to generate support from within the Republican ranks, and his current job as majority whip — the No. 3 spot in the House leadership — allowed him quick and personal access in a way no other candidate could match.

"Kevin McCarthy has made more deep and lasting contacts with members than anyone in a long time in the Congress," Camp said. "There's probably no member of Congress who has called me or texted me more than Kevin McCarthy during the past four years. ... I'll bet if I called him and asked him 'What's my wife's name?' he would know it."

Read more on the KFI News Blog