California special election to replace McCarthy headed to runoff, leaving open seat in House

 March 22, 2024

A special election in California's 20th Congressional District to fill the seat vacated by former Speaker Kevin McCarthy ended without a clear winner Tuesday, necessitating a runoff election that will prolong the vacancy in the predominantly Republican-leaning district for two more months.

State Assemblyman Vince Fong, endorsed by both McCarthy and former President Trump, fell short of the required 50% threshold on Tuesday.

The count

He will face Republican Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux and Democrat Marisa Wood in a May 21 runoff election.

With 98% of votes counted, Fong secured 42% of the votes, while Boudreaux garnered 24%, according to Fox News.

The 20th Congressional District encompasses the Central Valley farm belt, including portions of Bakersfield and Fresno, and is known for its strong Republican leanings.

Trump's influence

Trump carried the district in 2020, and McCarthy represented it until his resignation in late 2023. Trump's involvement in the race has positioned it as a barometer of his influence ahead of a potential rematch against President Biden in November.

McCarthy's departure from the speakership was a historic event. "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," the Associated Press noted.

The special election, featuring nine candidates, was conducted under California's jungle primary system, where the top two vote-getters advance to the general election.

As the special election was to fill the remainder of McCarthy's term ending in January, another round of voting was required.

What's next?

In the broader March 5 primary for the full 20th District term starting in January, Fong and Boudreaux had already secured spots for the November election.

The vacancy in the district is one of the 11 House seats held by Republicans out of California's 52, with McCarthy's seat remaining empty since his resignation.

His departure followed a historic removal from the speakership initiated by Rep. Matt Gaetz, with eight House Republicans crossing party lines to support the motion.

Trump's endorsement of Fong, hailed as a "true Republican," contrasts with Boudreaux's support from figures like former acting director of national intelligence Ric Grenell and Republican state Sen. Shannon Grove. Despite occupying similar conservative policy positions and both backing Trump, Fong's status as McCarthy's preferred candidate adds an insider-outsider dynamic to the race.

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