Kevin McCarthy

By Michael Doyle
McClatchy Washington Bureau
Published: Thursday, Jun. 19, 2014 – 3:17 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, Jun. 19, 2014 – 10:27 pm

WASHINGTON — Republicans in the House of Representatives on Thursday elected Bakersfield, Calif., native Kevin McCarthy as majority leader, giving California’s Central Valley a leg up on Capitol Hill.

McCarthy’s election makes the 49-year-old former deli operator the first Californian to reach the House’s number-two position since it was created in 1899. The promotion also puts McCarthy on the spot, raising expectations about what he can deliver even as it ratifies his own remarkable rise.

“They elected a guy who’s the grandson of a cattle rancher and the son of a firefighter,” McCarthy said. “Only in America can that happen.”

Following a quick campaign, McCarthy was nominated by Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia and won election on the first round of a GOP secret ballot conducted among 233 House Republicans. He handily defeated Idaho Republican Raul Labrador, a conservative House sophomore who entered the race late.

McCarthy will replace Rep. Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican who is stepping down following his primary defeat by a political novice affiliated with tea party activists.

“It’s certainly good news for the Golden State,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “On issues that are non-partisan, this could really benefit California.”

McCarthy’s ascension created an opening as House majority whip, the position he has held since 2011. On the first ballot Thursday afternoon, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., defeated Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., to capture the whip’s job. The new leaders take office July 31.

New elections will be held following the November general election.

McCarthy effectively locked up his victory early, clearing the field of higher-profile potential challengers and deploying his existing vote-counting organization.

As whip, McCarthy was number three in House leadership, and responsible for counting vote and cajoling lawmakers for them. He’s endured some high-profile losses, a reflection, in part, on increased member independence and the loss of some old-school tools. The days when a top member could earmark hundreds of millions of dollars in transportation funds for a home district, as McCarthy’s former boss Bill Thomas once did for Kern County, are gone.

“He’s occasionally broken some glass,” Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said of McCarthy, but “I think most people say that he’s not been an ironfisted whip.”

As majority leader, McCarthy is second only to the speaker of the House in the GOP hierarchy. His job is to set the House schedule and determine what legislation moves and under what circumstances. Some past majority leaders have likened the job to being the House’s chief executive officer.

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