NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Let's count the ways Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise has grown in popularity since he became the third most powerful man in the Republican-led House.
More than a dozen political action committees, including the American Hotel and Lodging Association, Comcast, Capital One and the International Dairy Foods Association, quickly donated to the newly installed whip's campaign while previous contributors — Facebook, Microsoft and Halliburton — wrote another check.
By the end of September, Scalise's committee contributions had jumped $568,087 for a total of $1.7 million, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
The giving is a testament to the congressman's newfound clout.
In a rapid-fire chain of events in June, Republicans elected the 49-year-old Scalise, the onetime chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, to serve as the whip, the chief vote counter who occasionally has to twist some arms. The stunning primary defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his subsequent resignation forced a shake-up in the House leadership.
The previous whip, Kevin McCarthy, succeeded Cantor, and Scalise beat two rivals to become the No. 3. John Boehner remained speaker.
The quick rise to the leadership post made Scalise the first member of the Louisiana congressional delegation to hold such a powerful job since 1972 when Democrat Hale Boggs was majority leader. It's an achievement not lost on Scalise, whose great-grandfather came from Sicily to work on a sugar plantation in the state.
The new whip sees himself as the "more conservative voice at the leadership table," capable of bridging the divide within GOP ranks. Scalise proudly describes his effort in August to bring the caucus together on two immigration-related bills when a politically disastrous defeat was imminent.
The House passed one measure to deal with the crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border by sending migrant youths back home without hearings. A separate bill would shut off an Obama administration program to grant temporary work permits to immigrants brought here illegally as children, potentially making them subject to deportation.
"We can pass conservative policy that unites us," Scalise says in an interview in his Metairie office. The Democratic-led Senate hasn't acted on either bill.
Campaign contributions also helped Scalise engender goodwill as he gave a fair share of his money to some two dozen Republican incumbents and challengers. And it didn't hurt that on his first day in his new Capitol offices — in a room Illinois congressman Abraham Lincoln used — Scalise served his colleagues gumbo, jambalaya and boudin sausage prepared by Cajun chefs.
While donors and the GOP have embraced Scalise, constituents in his district worry about the congressman, who still has the build from his high school wrestling days. They are wary of Washington ways changing him, particularly some of the parishioners at St. Agnes Catholic Church, where Scalise and his family attend Mass.
"Money and influence are so more important to them now," 66-year-old Jane Duggan says of modern day politicians. Of Scalise, she says, "We need to up our prayers for him."
Not surprisingly, the House Whip was warmly received this week at a regional meeting of the National Federation of Independent Business at a French Quarter hotel.
While Senate Republicans are circumspect about what would happen if the GOP wins the Senate, Scalise speaks bullishly about the first 100 days. He wants a budget done quickly and he wants to force President Barack Obama's hand on legislation, including a bill enshrining the president's vow that if you like your health insurance, you can keep it.
"He's going to actually have to engage in the legislative process," Scalise tells some 50 people. "Bill Clinton did with Newt Gingrich. Barack Obama, he just sits out. He sits back, he criticizes everybody. He's got his professorial attitude, real condescending as if he's got all the answers."
The red-meat rhetoric plays well as Scalise refers to fierce opponents of the Keystone pipeline as "crazy, radical environmentalist nut jobs" and complains about "extreme, leftist policies that are failing."
But he offers hints that he's more than a pure partisan.
He speaks animatedly about being on the board of Teach for America, working with Democrats in the push for charter schools in New Orleans and the turnaround from a corrupt and failing school system.
This election, Scalise isn't taking anything for granted even though he cruised with 67 percent of the vote in 2012 and his three opponents haven't raised a single dollar.
Everyone got religion after Cantor's loss.
The congressman holds town halls in his expansive district that includes parts of New Orleans, its suburbs, the Bayou and cities and parishes integral to coal production, gas drilling and the fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico. He spotlights his family — wife Jennifer, seven-year-old daughter Madison and five-year-old son Harrison — in a campaign ad.
When he's home, Scalise takes his children to school in the morning, booster seats in the Suburban and security detail in tow.
In his campaign commercial, Scalise says his favorite job title is "dad."