Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy‘s announcement that he would resign from Congress at the end of the year throws his own political future — and the fates of vulnerable California Republicans — into murky territory.
His resignation comes as a disappointment, but not a surprise, to his loyal supporters in Congress. McCarthy is well-liked in his Central Valley district, but he would have faced withering campaign attacks over a dysfunctional Congress and his failure to rein in far-right members.
It doesn’t exactly make for a great mailer.
“He’s the hometown boy who made good, but then he had a tragic end,” Mark Salvaggio, a former Bakersfield City Council member, told POLITICO. “The reaction here locally is sadness, disappointment … but people understand. They respect his decision.”
McCarthy aimed to strike an optimistic tone in announcing his departure, promising to stay “in the fight” even though he’ll no longer be in a position to do much fighting. He can still attempt to recruit candidates and raise money for them, but there’s a big difference between having the speaker in your corner and having a former member.
“It’s going to be hard for them to replicate the operation that Kevin had,” said Rob Stutzman, a top Republican operative in California who has known McCarthy since his time in the statehouse in Sacramento. “They won’t be able to. Johnson doesn’t have the relationships and fundraising prowess.”
McCarthy’s ouster from leadership in October had already threatened to leave Republicans in Biden-won House districts rudderless, especially in fundraising. As speaker, McCarthy elevated the California GOP in both visibility and power.
Mike Madrid, a California Republican consultant who makes no secret of his disdain for the Trump-era version of his own party, put it in simple terms: “Investing in the California Republican party is like investing in Blockbuster. The only reason people would was because they had a relationship with Kevin.”
Madrid said the bigger impact could be on the state party infrastructure. He said he expects Republicans will be able to fully fund candidates in battleground races without McCarthy. (Worth noting: GOP candidates currently have more cash on hand than Democrats in seven of the state’s 10 most-watched House districts.)
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to call a special election for the remainder of McCarthy’s term. It would be held simultaneously as the March primary and November general election, meaning the candidates would likely appear multiple times on the ballot.
Potential replacements include state Sen. Shannon Grove and Assemblymember Vince Fong. Neither Grove nor Fong returned messages on Wednesday asking about a bid for the seat, but both released public statements praising McCarthy for his years of leadership.
Grove, one of the more right-leaning Republicans in the California statehouse, received huge recognition this year for forcing passage of a human-trafficking bill that some Democrats had initially tried to block. Fong, who used to work as McCarthy’s district director, maintains close ties to the former speaker, and even called him “one of my best friends” in an Instagram post on Wednesday.
Jeremy B. White and Melanie Mason contributed reporting.
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