Rep. Daniel Webster officially announced his bid for House speaker Tuesday morning, giving Republicans three options for their vote later this week on a replacement for retiring Speaker John A. Boehner.
Mr. Webster, a third-term Republican from Florida, joins Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, as challengers hoping to deny the speakership to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the current No. 2 who had seemed on a glide-path to ascend to the House’s top post.
Analysts have played down the chance that one of them could derail Mr. McCarthy, but their candidacies underscore the ongoing tension within the House GOP, which is struggling to define itself nearly five years after voters gave it a majority in the lower chamber.
The two insurgents argue that as part of the current leadership team, Mr. McCarthy cannot make the fundamental changes that are needed if House Republicans are to regain the legislative initiative.
“This election is not about changing personalities in the speaker’s office, but about fundamentally transforming the way we do business in Washington,” said Mr. Webster, who was speaker of the Florida House before winning his seat in Congress.
The math for the speakership voting is getting complex.
The GOP will meet behind closed doors Thursday to select a consensus candidate. Then the whole House will vote Oct. 29.
Mr. McCarthy is expected to emerge from Thursday’s vote as the GOP’s choice, and Democrats will again push for their leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi. The eventual winner will need an absolute majority of House members to claim the job.
But conservative opposition to Mr. McCarthy runs deep, and if several dozen refuse to vote for him on the chamber floor, they could deny him the gavel and force Republicans to come up with a new consensus pick, or else force Mr. McCarthy to try to strike a deal with Democrats for their support.
The “overwhelming majority” of Democrats will be backing Mrs. Pelosi, her top lieutenant, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, told reporters Tuesday, downplaying chances that Democrats will try to manipulate the vote to favor a specific GOP candidate.
“We’re certainly thinking about all these things,” Mr. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said, adding, “Republicans will have to make this decision, and we’ll see what that means for us.”
It wouldn’t be Mr. Webster’s first brush with leadership intrigue on the chamber floor. His allies tried to boost him as a candidate for speaker in January, when the Congress convened.
Mr. Boehner won the job anyway, but Mr. Webster did garner 12 votes of support, or nearly half of the 25 rebel Republicans who didn’t vote for Mr. Boehner.
For his part, Mr. Chaffetz said Tuesday he jumped into the speaker’s race to make it competitive, even though he considers Mr. McCarthy a friend and “good man.”
“I mean, that is sort of the American way. A little competition, we shouldn’t be afraid of that,” Mr. Chaffetz told MSNBC.
Earlier this month, Mr. Chaffetz criticized Mr. McCarthy for crediting the House committee on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, with damaging Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers — undermining GOP claims the probe wasn’t politically motivated.
Mr. McCarthy has tried to walk back the blunder, saying Tuesday, “The mission of the Select Committee on Benghazi is to find the truth — period.”