Republican Vince Fong advances to runoff election to complete term of ex-House Speaker McCarthy

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Legislator Vince Fong is advancing to a May election in California to decide who will complete the remainder of the term of deposed former U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, which runs through January.

It’s not yet clear who will emerge from a crowded field of contenders to take on Fong in the May 21 special election in the 20th District.

Fong is a state Assembly member who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump. He is a former McCarthy aide who also has the ex−speaker’s endorsement in the race.

Republicans are expected to easily hold the seat, and the party’s fragile majority in the chamber was not at stake in Tuesday’s election.

The district, which cuts through the Central Valley farm belt including parts of Bakersfield and Fresno, is the most strongly Republican House seat in heavily Democratic California.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California legislator backed by former President Donald Trump and a sheriff who promises to harden the nation’s porous borders were closely matched Tuesday night in a special U.S. House election to complete the remaining term of deposed former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, which runs through January.

State Assembly member Vince Fong, a onetime McCarthy aide who also has his endorsement, and Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, both Republicans, were among a cluster of candidates in the solidly conservative district hoping to fill the seat the speaker left vacant when he resigned last year.

The polls closed at 8 p.m., and early returns showed Boudreaux and Fong edging ahead of the crowded field.

Because of Trump’s involvement, the race will be watched as a possible proxy vote on the former president’s clout as he heads toward an all−but−certain matchup against President Joe Biden in November.

McCarthy’s dramatic fall in the House — he is the only speaker in history to be voted out of the job — left behind a messy race to succeed him that has included an ongoing lawsuit and exposed rivalries within the GOP.

Republicans are expected to hold the seat easily, and the party’s fragile majority in the chamber is not at stake. The district, which cuts through the Central Valley farm belt including parts of Bakersfield and Fresno, is the most strongly Republican seat in heavily Democratic California.

Republicans occupy only 11 of the state’s 52 House seats, with the one held by McCarthy currently vacant.

The election is likely to leave many voters befuddled and draw a sparse turnout, because they just saw some of the same names on the March 5 primary ballot for the full 20th Congressional District term that begins in January. Fong and Boudreaux have advanced to the November election in that contest.

The special election only covers the time remaining in McCarthy’s term, running through early next year. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, the top−two finishers would be matched in a May 21 election.

With nine names on the ballot, it appeared unlikely any candidate would surpass that threshold to claim the seat outright Tuesday. Democrats on the ballot included public schoolteacher Marisa Wood, who also sought the full term.

It’s possible voters could see Fong and Boudreaux on four different ballots between March and November.

Boudreaux’s campaign has been texting voters to remind them that a separate election is taking place Tuesday after getting calls from supporters trying to sort it out. Similarly, Fong’s campaign is alerting voters to the second election just two weeks after the primary.

“This is an unusual process,” Fong adviser Ryan Gardiner said. Given the circumstances, the campaign just kept operating after the primary, he said.

Trump endorsed Fong in February, calling him “a true Republican.” Boudreaux’s supporters include Ric Grenell, a former acting director of national intelligence in the Trump administration, and Republican state Sen. Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, Fong’s home turf.

Fong and Boudreaux occupy much of the same policy terrain, and both are Trump−supporting conservatives.

But there is an insider−outsider aspect to the race: Fong is McCarthy’s handpicked choice and a product of his political operation, while the sheriff is not.

Their backgrounds also offer a contrast.

Fong is a legislator coming out of McCarthy’s orbit who says he is offering “trusted, tested leadership.” He has dominated the race in fundraising. Boudreaux, who is the son of a detective, spotlights his decades of law−and−order experience and says he has “the know−how to keep us safe.”

The top issue in the race is the nation’s border crisis.

Fong is anchored in Kern County, the most populous swath in the district, while Boudreaux is a familiar name in Tulare and Kings counties. The race could be decided in Fresno County, where the two were narrowly divided in the March 5 primary, according to incomplete results.

Michael R. Blood And Christopher Weber, The Associated Press

Photo: AP