California sets a special election for US House seat left vacant by exit of former Speaker McCarthy

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday set a mid-March special election date to fill the U.S. House seat vacated by former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

In a statement, Newsom set the March 19 primary date for the 20th Congressional District contest. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters would advance to a May 21 matchup to fill the seat.

The solidly Republican district is anchored in Bakersfield, which cuts through parts of several counties in the state’s interior farm belt. The seat is expected to stay in GOP hands.

McCarthy announced in early December that he would step down, two months after his historic ouster as House speaker. The announcement capped a stunning end to a House career for the onetime deli counter owner, who ascended through state and national politics to become second in line to the presidency, until a cluster of hard-right conservatives engineered his removal in October.

McCarthy is the only speaker in history to be voted out of the job.

Newsom scheduled the election two weeks after the state’s March 5 presidential primary, which will give candidates additional time to campaign for the vacant seat and reduce the chance for voter confusion with the primary election for the presidential race and other 2024 contests, including state legislative seats.

The term for the seat vacated by McCarthy runs through January 2025.

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Who can run to replace McCarthy?

His chosen successor, Vince Fong, is suing the state after being barred from the ballot.

Months after a humiliating vote by his own party to oust him as speaker of the House, longtime GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy is days away from exiting Congress on Dec. 31, leaving confusion over who is eligible to run for his seat in a conservative Central Valley district.

A dozen people have jumped into the race, but McCarthy’s chosen Republican successor was barred from the ballot and on Friday sued the California secretary of state in an attempt to reverse the decision. Giddy Democrats are sending out fundraising emails saying McCarthy’s protege will “be mired in legal challenges for weeks.” Bakersfield locals are grumbling about the chaos. Political professionals are aghast at the mess.

It’s hardly the succession plan expected for McCarthy, who built his power over two decades as a masterful tactician of electoral politics who helped Republicans win control of the House in the pivotal 2010 election and again in 2022.

McCarthy climbed the ranks by recruiting candidates, studying political maps and raising money. When conservative commentator Fred Barnes predicted in 2010 that McCarthy would become speaker some day, he wrote, “He’ll be fixated on how to win more elections, more often.”

But after McCarthy announced his retirement in early December, his allies in Bakersfield popped a series of surprises.

First, McCarthy’s former staff member, Republican Assemblyman Vince Fong, said he would not run for Congress and instead would seek reelection to his Bakersfield seat in the state Assembly. Fong’s announcement cleared the way for another McCarthy ally, GOP state Sen. Shannon Grove, to enter the race — but then she too said she wouldn’t run. Fong then changed his mind and filed to run, only to be barred from the ballot by California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a Democrat, who said state law prohibits candidates from running for two offices in one election.

“It would be important to Kevin that succession for that seat remain in the political family,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist who knows Fong but is not working for his campaign.

The chaos was eye-opening for constituents in the 20th Congressional District, who have become accustomed to having powerful, longtime members of Congress protecting the interests of the heavily agricultural San Joaquin Valley. The March 5 primary will be the district’s first election without an incumbent candidate since 2006, and only the second since 1978.

“This is a conservative district, so voters are going to look for somebody who is focused on representing the area the way Kevin has,” said Jim Brulte, the former chair of the California Republican Party. “The people in this district have had consistent leadership, and they’re going to look for more of the same.”

McCarthy’s exit from the race has thrown open the floodgates to nearly a dozen candidates. The district, the most conservative in California, is almost certain to elect a Republican.

Aside from Fong, the only other candidate who has previously held elected office is Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux. Other Republicans include David Giglio, a far-right, self-described “America First” candidate who has been critical of McCarthy; Matt Stoll, a former fighter pilot who operates a landscaping business and has run for Congress twice before; and Kyle Kirkland, the owner of Fresno’s only card room.

The most prominent Democrat in the race is Bakersfield teacher Marisa Wood, who raised more than $1 million in her unsuccessful run against McCarthy in 2022.

The biggest question is whether Fong, who was endorsed by McCarthy the day after he entered the race, will even appear on the ballot.

Fong, born and raised in Bakersfield, began his career working for McCarthy’s predecessor, then-Rep. Bill Thomas, before spending nearly a decade as McCarthy’s district director. Fong was elected to the state Assembly in 2016.

It’s a path that mirrors that of McCarthy, who began his political career in Thomas’ office, then served four years in the state Assembly before running for Congress.

After McCarthy announced that he would retire, election officials extended the filing period for the 20th Congressional District seat by five days. Fong entered the congressional race during the extension period and was sworn in as a candidate by the Kern County elections division, prompting complaints from other candidates who said Fong had already qualified to run for reelection to the state Assembly.

Days later, Weber’s office said that Fong’s congressional paperwork was “improperly submitted,” and he would “not appear on the list of certified candidates for Congressional District 20.”

Said one political consultant who asked for anonymity in order to speak frankly: “How the hell does that even happen?”

In a 13-page petition filed Friday in Sacramento County Superior Court, Fong said that Weber’s decision was based on an outdated law, which reads: “No person may file nomination papers for a party nomination and an independent nomination for the same office, or for more than one office at the same election.”

Fong argued that the law has not been applicable since 2010, when California voters revamped the state’s primary system, scrapping party nominations in favor of a system in which the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

Fong also said that Weber’s decision to bar him from the congressional ballot is an “attempted unilateral expansion of her powers,” which should be limited to receiving and filing the list of candidates collected by California’s county election officials. Adding an extra qualification for candidates — that only those who have not filed for another office may run — is a violation of the Constitution, his lawyers argue.

Newspaper columnist Robert Price put the blame for the kerfuffle squarely at McCarthy’s feet, writing for the Bakersfield Californian that the congressman’s retirement announcement will not only leave the district temporarily without representation in Washington but has created “chaos in the succession process — chaos likely to give an advantage to a Democrat or a far-right Republican not based in Bakersfield.”

“It would have been nice if McCarthy had first huddled with other Republican elected officials,” Price wrote, so that Fong and Grove would have “enough time to figure out what was best for themselves and their districts. That seems not to have happened, or happened sufficiently well.”

Brulte said he and McCarthy spoke in mid- December about what McCarthy planned to do after leaving Washington. McCarthy helped deliver the House majority to the Republican Party in 2010 and again in 2022 by raising millions of dollars and helping to pick diverse candidates who were good fits for their districts. That, Brulte said, will continue to be McCarthy’s priority.

“He knows a Republican is going to carry his district,” Brulte said. “He’s more interested in recruiting good candidates. He’s much more focused on helping Republicans keep the congressional majority than he is focused on his own district.”

After McCarthy leaves office, Gov. Gavin Newsom will have 14 days to set the date of a primary for a special election to temporarily fill the 20th District seat until January 2025.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

McCarthy’s fall leaves state Republicans in bind

Successor may bring in less money, even as Democrats try to tie incumbents to new speaker’s extremism.

WASHINGTON — Since House Republicans unanimously elected Louisiana’s Rep. Mike Johnson as speaker last week, the GOP has sought to portray itself as an emboldened party willing to battle President Biden and the Democratic-controlled Senate.

But for California Republicans, Johnson’s election presents a host of potential problems that could make trying to survive in a deep-blue state even harder than it already was.

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster is the first of those challenges. McCarthy’s fundraising allies have said they will work with Johnson to ensure the money continues to pour into Republicans’ coffers. But Johnson is relatively unproven as a fundraiser, and McCarthy, who pulled in more than $500 million last election cycle, rose to the top of his party in part because of his ability to rake in dough.

The loss of McCarthy from upper leadership could have especially dire consequences for the California Republican Party, which has long relied on him to keep money coming into the Golden State, said Mike Madrid, an anti-Trump Republican consultant who’s become a critic of the party.

“Kevin McCarthy was the last card holding up the house that we call the California Republican Party,” Madrid said. “He was the last reason any money — any serious money — was actually moving through the operation.”

Now that McCarthy is out as speaker, “that money is going to dry up very, very quickly,” Madrid added. “The state party is going to have a very difficult time keeping its head above water while it’s already sinking.”

Even before his first election to Congress in 2006, McCarthy demonstrated his value by raising money and sending funds to fellow candidates and the National Republican Congressional Committee. As he rose the ranks in party leadership, donors were more eager to hand over their cash. This was a godsend to the state party, which had struggled to raise enough money to field competitive candidates in safer Democratic districts.

Madrid said it’s very unlikely that candidates in California’s most competitive districts will see their bank accounts dry up. Donors in and outside the state will continue giving to protect the five Republicans who hold districts that President Biden won in 2020 — Young Kim of Anaheim Hills, David Valadao of Hanford, Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita, Michelle Steel of Seal Beach and John Duarte of Modesto.

If donors don’t deliver for those members, the GOP could lose its House majority.

But, Madrid said, for Republicans in safe districts, donors are unlikely to want to invest, since they are unlikely to see anything change.

Even if the money keeps flowing, California Republicans have another problem: Democrats are eager to tie them to the deeply archconservative Louisiana Republican they’ve elevated to the post second in line for the presidency.

“Johnson is as extreme as they come. He led the plot to overthrow the 2020 election. He’s a Trump loyalist. Above all, he’s a MAGA extremist,” a new ad from the Congressional Integrity Project, a Democratic-aligned nonprofit, warns Californians.

“This is who John Duarte voted for,” the ad continues. “Tell him to stop putting MAGA over the American people.”

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report changed its assessment of Valadao’s race from leaning Republican to “toss-up” on Tuesday.

Dave Wasserman, a senior editor and elections analyst at Cook, wrote that the fight over the speakership had “supercharged House Democrats’ confidence that they can flip the five seats they need to reclaim the chamber by convincing swing voters that ‘dysfunctional’ Republicans can’t be trusted with the keys to power.”

And Dan Gottlieb, a spokesman for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a news release that “Californians are eager to reject the extremism that [Valadao has] been enabling.”

That sort of attack may have some resonance in California. Although McCarthy may have been unpopular with Democrats, he was a Californian. The differences between his home of Bakersfield and the rest of the state are not as vast as the differences between California and the Deep South.

Though McCarthy declined to vote to certify some states’ presidential election results in 2020, Johnson went a step further, rallying more than 100 Republicans behind his brief endorsing a lawsuit to overturn the election. He has repeatedly backed measures to ban abortion nationwide, and previously worked for a nonprofit — labeled an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — that defended state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people. Such viewpoints are at odds with many swing district voters.

But Jon Fleischman, former executive director of the state GOP, doesn’t think connecting vulnerable California Republicans to Johnson will go far with voters.

“I don’t think the ideological views of the speaker really matter at all,” he said. “It’s not clear to me that the positions on the issues of the new speaker are really any different than the positions of the issues of the old speaker.”

Of Republicans surveyed in an October Economist/YouGov poll, 38% said they wanted House members to back the speaker candidate supported by the majority of the GOP caucus even if they disagreed with the nominee, while 33% of Republicans said they should not.

“I don’t think they’re going to judge their member of Congress based on who their party put forward as speaker,” Fleischman said. “If there’s any potential for impact, it’s not going to be [due to] the views of the congressman from Louisiana on the issues.”

Democratic groups may have an easier time tying the lawmakers to former President Trump, he argued. Trump is the likely GOP presidential nominee, is very popular among the GOP base, but is still deeply unpopular among swing voters.

“These incumbents are going to have to run under the banner of Trump for president,” Fleischman said.

Still, Republicans and their allies will seek to localize races and focus on specific issues to make clear the role their candidates could play in Washington.

“Californians demand relief from the surging cost of living, gas prices and violent crime fueled by extreme left-wing policies in D.C. and Sacramento,” Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ben Petersen said in a statement.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

McCarthy’s Office Denies Reports Former House Speaker is Resigning

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — The office of Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is denying reports that he will resign from Congress.

CNN and Politico both reported that the Central California congressman was expected to step down from Congress before the end of his term, citing anonymous sources they called “close to McCarthy.”

However, McCarthy’s office tells Action News, “he is not resigning.”

“We’re going to keep the majority. We are going to help the people we got here. And we are going to expand it further,” McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol on Friday.

Click here to read the full article at ABC 30

Kevin McCarthy Becomes First Speaker Ever to Be Ousted From the Job in a House vote

WASHINGTON — Speaker Kevin McCarthy was voted out of the job Tuesday in an extraordinary showdown — a first in U.S. history, forced by a contingent of hard-right conservatives and throwing the House and its Republican leadership into chaos.

It’s nearing the end of the political line for McCarthy, who has said repeatedly that he never gives up, but now has almost no options remaining. Neither the right-flank Republicans who engineered his ouster nor the Democrats who piled on seem open to negotiating.

McCarthy told lawmakers Tuesday evening he would not run again for speaker, putting the gavel up for grabs. Next steps are highly uncertain as there is no obvious successor to lead the House Republican majority.

McCarthy’s chief rival, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, orchestrated the rare vote on the obscure “motion to vacate,” and pushed ahead swiftly into a dramatic afternoon roll call.

While McCarthy enjoyed support from most Republicans in his slim majority, eight Republican detractors — many of the same hard-right holdouts who tried to stop him from becoming speaker in January — essentially forced him out.

Stillness fell as the presiding officer gaveled the vote closed, 216-210, saying the office of the speaker “is hereby declared vacant.”

Moments later, a top McCarthy ally, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., took the gavel and, according to House rules, was named speaker pro tempore, to serve in the office until a new speaker is chosen.

The House then briskly recessed as lawmakers prepared to meet privately and discuss the path forward.

It was a stunning moment for McCarthy, a punishment fueled by growing grievances but sparked by his weekend decision to work with Democrats to keep the federal government open rather than risk a shutdown.

But in many ways, McCarthy’s ouster was set in motion when, in deal-making with hard-right holdouts at the start of the year, he agreed to a series of demands — including a rules change that allowed any single lawmaker to file the motion to vacate.

As the House fell silent, Gaetz, a top ally of Donald Trump, rose to offer his motion.

Leaders tried to turn it back, but the vote was 218-208, with 11 Republicans against tabling the motion, a sign of trouble to come.

The House then opened a floor debate, unseen in modern times, and Republicans argued publicly among themselves for more than an hour.

“It’s a sad day,” Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma said as debate got underway, urging his colleagues not to plunge the House Republican majority “into chaos.”

But Gaetz shot back during the debate, “Chaos is Speaker McCarthy.”

As the fiery debate dragged on, many of the complaints against the speaker revolved around his truthfulness and his ability to keep the promises he has made.

Almost alone, Gaetz led his side of the floor debate, criticizing the debt deal McCarthy made with President Joe Biden and the vote to prevent a government shutdown, which conservatives opposed as they demanded steeper spending cuts.

But a long line of McCarthy supporters stood up for him, including Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus, who said, “I think he has kept his word.” Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., waved his cellphone, saying it was “disgusting” that hard-right colleagues were fundraising off the move in text messages seeking donations.

McCarthy, of California, insisted he would not cut a deal with Democrats to remain in power — not that he could have relied on their help even if he had asked.

Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a letter to colleagues that he wants to work with Republicans, but he was unwilling to provide the votes needed to save McCarthy.

“It is now the responsibility of the GOP members to end the House Republican Civil War,” Jeffries said, announcing the Democratic leadership would vote for the motion to oust the speaker.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden “hopes the House will quickly elect a Speaker.” Once that happens, she said, “he looks forward to working together with them.”

At the Capitol, both Republicans and Democrats met privately ahead of the historic afternoon vote.

Behind closed doors, McCarthy told fellow Republicans: Let’s get on with it.

McCarthy invoked Republican Speaker Joseph Cannon, who more than 100 years ago confronted his critics head-on by calling their bluff and setting the vote himself on his ouster. Cannon survived that takedown attempt, which was the first time the House had actually voted to consider removing its speaker. A more recent threat, in 2015, didn’t make it to a vote.

Gaetz was in attendance, but he did not address the room.

Across the way in the Capitol, Democrats lined up for a long discussion and unified around one common point: McCarthy cannot be trusted, several lawmakers in the room said.

“I think it’s safe to say there’s not a lot of good will in that room for Kevin McCarthy,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.

“At the end of the day, the country needs a speaker that can be relied upon,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “We don’t trust him. Their members don’t trust him. And you need a certain degree of trust to be the speaker.”

Removing the speaker launches the House Republicans into chaos. Typically, top leaders would be next in line for the job, but Majority Leader Steve Scalise is battling cancer and Majority Whip Tom Emmer, like any potential candidate, may have trouble securing the vote.

It took McCarthy himself 15 rounds in January over multiple days of voting before he secured the support from his colleagues to gain the gavel, and it’s uncertain now if he will try again — or call it quits.

Trump, the former president who is the Republican front-runner in the 2024 race to challenge Biden, complained about the chaos. “Why is it that Republicans are always fighting among themselves,” he asked on social media.

Asked about McCarthy’s ouster as he exited court in New York, where he is on trial for business fraud, Trump did not respond.

One key McCarthy ally, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who is also close with Trump, took to social media urging support for “our speaker.”

Republicans left the chamber in a daze, totally uncertain about next steps. “I honestly don’t know,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz. “This is a total disaster.”

Many had lined up to hug McCarthy, some to shake his hand.

Democrats, who have bristled at McCarthy’s leadership — cajoling them one minute, walking away from deals the next — said they were just holding back, waiting for Republicans to figure out how to run the House.

Rep, Don Bacon, R-Neb., the leader of a centrist group, said the only option was to leave the eight hardliners behind and try to work across the aisle. “We’re going to stay with Kevin,” he said. “He told us earlier he’ll never quit.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register