How Kevin McCarthy is influencing this congressional race -- without being on the ballot

Laura J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

VISALIA, Calif. — As he stood on a sun-dappled patio overlooking the Visalia Country Club, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux didn't mince words about his chances in his run for Congress.

"I am the underdog," Boudreaux told a crowd of supporters. "I am pushing back against a machine that is so powerful that it's very challenging, to say the least."

The power behind the machine is former Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), who resigned from Congress last year after being voted out as House speaker. His name is not on the ballot, but McCarthy's political influence and campaign funds are still major factors in the fight over who will serve out the remainder of his term in Congress.

Voters in the 20th Congressional District, the most conservative in California, will choose Tuesday between two Republican candidates: Boudreaux, a sheriff from the northern half of the district; and Assemblymember Vince Fong, a lawmaker who represents Bakersfield in Sacramento and previously worked for McCarthy.

The special election is expected to be a relatively low-key, low-turnout affair. But the stakes are high: Whoever wins the special election will be the incumbent on the November ballot, a significant advantage in the race for the full two-year term.

"Boudreaux is the outsider, the David vs. the Goliath," said Mark Salvaggio, a Bakersfield political commentator and former member of the City Council. "Fong is McCarthy's heir apparent, and the scales are tilted in his favor."


Fong and Boudreaux are aligned on most major policy issues: opposing abortion, reducing illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border and securing better water and energy policies for the agricultural Central Valley.

Boudreaux, 57, has been the sheriff of Tulare County for more than a decade and serves as the head of the California State Sheriffs' Assn.

"I've been on the streets, on patrol, enforcing issues of immigration and crime resulting from bad legislation," Boudreaux said. "I have 38 years of real life experiences that I can take to the Hill."

Fong, 44, began his career working for McCarthy's predecessor, then-Rep. Bill Thomas, then worked for nearly a decade as McCarthy's district director before winning a seat in the state Assembly in 2016.


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