By Michael Doyle
mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com
Published: Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

WASHINGTON – Rep. Kevin McCarthy is a youthful-looking, silver-haired gent still finding his way as California’s highest-ranking GOP lawmaker.

Following some embarrassing new smudges on his Capitol Hill won-loss record, the Republican representing Bakersfield, in California’s southern Central Valley, must demonstrate anew the vote-wrangling skills demanded of him as House majority whip.

“You’re always continuing to learn, week by week,” McCarthy said in an interview.

Now in his third term as a congressman, and his second month as a whip, the generally cheerful, 46-year-old McCarthy ranks third in the House of Representatives leadership. The position gives him a greatly expanded staff, a Capitol office that overlooks the Supreme Court and the potential for both accolades and brickbats.

As the first lawmaker from California’s Central Valley to hold the whip position since Tony Coelho cajoled House Democratic troops in the late 1980s, McCarthy is in a pivotal position. He’s the man to see, for his constituents and for any Californian interested in legislation moving through the Republican-controlled House.

He’s also one of the people who feels the heat when Republicans lose a House vote.

Tuesday, 26 Republicans helped defeat an extension of the so-called USA Patriot Act, which governs domestic anti-terrorism activities. Earlier in the week, House Republicans had failed to pass a GOP-backed bill retrieving U.S. money from the United Nations and had abruptly pulled a trade bill from the House floor.

One Republican lawmaker who voted against the Patriot Act extension, Rep. John Campbell, R-Irvine, said that no member of the leadership had even contacted him prior to the vote.

“We’re a work in progress,” said freshman Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, a member of McCarthy’s extended whip team. “I’d say it’s going to come together quickly.”

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