Two Republicans will face off to replace Kevin McCarthy in California's Central Valley


Central Valley voters have selected two Republicans to face off in May to represent the San Joaquin Valley in Congress for the remainder of former Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s term.

The fight to succeed McCarthy, who left Congress with a year left in his term after his own party ousted him as speaker of the House, has pitted Republicans against Republicans in the 20th Congressional District, which includes Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.

The Associated Press on Wednesday said McCarthy’s handpicked successor, Assemblymember Vince Fong, would advance to the runoff election in May. With most ballots counted, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, a law-and-order conservative, said that he expected to advance as well.

Fong had about 40% of the vote on Wednesday afternoon, while Boudreaux had about 26% and Democrat Marisa Wood, a middle school teacher, had about 23%.

Fong congratulated his opponents on “hard-fought campaigns,” and said he was “grateful that voters have once again chosen experienced, common-sense leadership to represent the Central Valley in Washington D.C.”

Boudreaux thanked the voters who supported him, and said he will “look forward to a terrific spring campaign to restore a badly-needed Valley voice in Washington to serve and represent our communities in Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern counties.”

Fong and Boudreaux will also face each other in November for the full two-year term to represent the San Joaquin Valley district in Congress in 2025 and 2026. The special election to be held May 21 will give either Fong or Boudreaux a rare opportunity to appear on the regular November ballot as the incumbent member of Congress, a significant advantage.

Running as the incumbent in November would help “enormously,” said Republican consultant Rob Stutzman, who is not working for either candidate. “It’s a huge boost.”

Stutzman said voters probably wouldn’t want to back a different candidate months after sending someone to Washington. And, he said, being sworn into Congress after the special election would unlock support from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which spends to support incumbents in their reelection fights.

There were nine candidates on the special election primary ballot. Two were Democrats, including Wood, who also ran against McCarthy in 2022. Four were Republicans, including Fong, Boudreaux and Fresno casino owner Kyle Kirkland, who lent his campaign $485,000, federal records show. Three candidates ran with no party preference.

Much of the Republican establishment has lined up behind Fong, who started his career as McCarthy’s district director before being elected to represent Bakersfield in the state Assembly.

Two super PACs, one funded by McCarthy’s political action committee, spent more than $670,000 to boost Fong through digital ads, text messages and mailers, federal filings show. One group called Central Valley Values sent ads about Wood to Democrats in the district, apparently in an attempt to help her advance to the general election. In a deep-red district, Fong would have had an easy path to election in both races if he faced a Democrat.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank and his allies used a similar strategy in the California Senate race, boosting Republican Steve Garvey in an effort to keep Rep. Katie Porter, a fierce liberal competitor, out of the November election.

The strategy didn’t work in the Central Valley, where primary election results for the full two-year term show Fong with about 42% of the primary vote, Boudreaux with 24% and Wood with about 21%.

Fong also snagged an endorsement from former President Trump, a huge advantage in one of the most Republican congressional districts in California. Trump wrote last month on his social network, Truth Social, that Fong would work in Congress to “grow the economy, lower your taxes, cut burdensome regulations, champion American energy, and protect and defend the 2nd Amendment, which is under siege by the radical left.”

Fong said in a statement that the Central Valley is “ready to once again have leaders in D.C., like President Trump, that will fight for our interests and values.”

Trump’s endorsement of Fong, Stutzman said, “really cuts the legs out from under any type of insurgency from the right.”

Boudreaux has cast himself as an alternative to the Central Valley’s establishment Republican politics. He has been endorsed by state Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) and David Giglio, the self-described “America First” candidate who dropped out of the congressional race last month.

The Central Valley is “demanding leadership in Washington with real experience confronting our biggest issues: safety and our open border,” Boudreaux said after the Associated Press said he would advance to the November ballot. Boudreaux earned his spot despite being “outspent 10-to-1 by swampy D.C. special interests and super PACs seeking to protect the status quo,” his campaign manager said in a statement.

The election got off to a rocky start, with legal confusion over whether Fong, who had initially filed to run for reelection in the 32nd Assembly District, was eligible to run for Congress. Fong changed his mind, filed to run for Congress and was barred from the Assembly ballot by California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a Democrat, who said that state law prohibits candidates from running for two offices in one election.

Fong sued, arguing that the law Weber cited has not been applicable since 2010, when California voters scrapped the state’s party nomination system and created a new system in which the two candidates who receive the most votes advance to the general election regardless of their party affiliation. A Sacramento County judge sided with Fong in late December, ruling that he could appear on the ballot after all.

Weber’s office appealed the decision in late January and asked the 3rd District Court of Appeal to rule on the question of Fong’s eligibility by April 12, the deadline for Weber to certify the primary election results.



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