The District 23 Juggernaut

Aaron Horne, Contributing Reporter

  Sharon Beery, Terry Phillips, Raul Garcia, Wendy Reed, and Tatiana Matta. These individuals all share at least one thing in common: They all suffered defeat before Kevin McCarthy in the race for the California District 23 seat in the United States House of Representatives.  

  Kevin McCarthy is set to run against Democratic candidate Kim Mangone with the primary election taking place March 3, and the general election on Nov. 3. Mangone, who has never held political office before, still seeks to end McCarthy’s reign.  

  McCarthy first took his place in the House of Representatives in 2006 and has been undefeated since. He was elevated to House leadership as Republican Chief Deputy Whip from 2009 to 2011, followed by a run as House Majority Leader until the Republicans lost their majority in 2018 and he was appointed as the current House Minority Leader.  

  McCarthy’s political career dates back before his arrival to the House of Representatives. Prior to his seating in the House, McCarthy worked under Bill Thomas. Thomas, who was also a congressional powerhouse, served 28 years before retiring after his term in 2004.  McCarthy would go on to defeat his opponents in a similar fashion as his predecessor.  

  However, it’s not just that his opposition lost against him. They all lost by large margins. When McCarthy first rose to the House of Representatives by taking the District 22 seat in 2006, he did so by first winning the three-way Republican primary with 85% of the vote. McCarthy followed up by winning the general election with 70% of the vote.  

  If a case of landslide victory wasn’t the outcome of McCarthy’s race, the result was a race where McCarthy ran completely unopposed. As was the case for the 2008 and 2010 races, McCarthy was unopposed for his second term, and in the running for his third term, no party had even put forward a candidate, barring a single write-in who didn’t receive even six percent of the vote.  

  Not until the redrawing of the districts in 2012 did McCarthy finally get some opposition, however this race too ended in a landslide, with McCarthy beating his independent opponent Terry Phillips with 73% of the vote.  

  Things began to change from that point forward, with Democratic opponents taking a stand against McCarthy in hopes of taking the US House seat for District 23. Raul Garcia, Wendy Reed, and Tatiana Matta stood off against McCarthy in his running for his fifth, sixth, and seventh terms, respectively. However, McCarthy’s campaign repeatedly proved itself too strong, each time winning him more than 60% of the vote.  

  Mark Martinez, political science professor at CSU Bakersfield, attributes McCarthy’s undefeated status to his district. As of February 18, the registration of voters in District 23 tips so heavily in the favor of Republicans as 40.87% of voters. Democratic voters only make up 29.63%, and that’s second place. In third would be voters claiming No Party Preference, which makes up 22.6%.  

  “This isn’t what I believe, this is reality. Kevin sits in a ‘safe’ district. It’s strongly Republican. You can thank gerrymandering for that,” Martinez said.  

  Gerrymandering is a practice that has taken place since the earliest days of our nation, a process where boundaries or districts are drawn to give candidates an advantage that opposition will find hard to compete against. Martinez likened most who dare to run against McCarthy as “sacrificial lambs.” 

  “Why go up when you have no chance? It’s just so heavily dominant Republican district… Kevin’s safe,” Martinez said.  

  Things aren’t slowing down for McCarthy as he sets up to claim the seat again this year. Using the many tools in his arsenal, he poises himself to continue his winning streak.  

  Cathy Abernathy, a Republican consultant for the Kern County Republican Committee who hired McCarthy as an intern when he was 23, says it has nothing to do with gerrymandering.  

  “Kevin’s strengths lie in his understanding of what the people need from the government. Water, fuel, [solar/wind] energy… He knows what the people of this district need,” Abernathy said.  

  According to Abernathy, as the incumbent representative, or one currently holding office, McCarthy has little to worry about.  

  “It’s always about the incumbent unless you have a reason to get rid of him, and in this case, there is no reason,” Abernathy said.  

  The campaign finance record, according to Federal Elections Commissions, reveals another of McCarthy’s advantages over his opponents. As of February 12, McCarthy has roughly four million dollars on hand for his campaign, whereas Mangone only has $22,000.  

  McCarthy shows dedication to his home, having vowed to return to Bakersfield every weekend in the past. Other political observers credit his winning streak to this commitment and connection to his district.  

  “He’s hands on. He’s here all the time,” Abernathy said. 

  According to a Bakersfield Californian article written by Christine Bedell in 2015, McCarthy is a wise fundraiser. By utilizing the money at his disposal to aide his future endeavors, he helps his companion Republicans win office. They in turn show him their support when the time comes.  

  One Republican McCarthy shows favor is President Trump, who refers to McCarthy as, “My Kevin.” 

  In the same article, former assemblywoman Nicole Parra said McCarthy chooses to surround himself with individuals smarter than himself to negotiate challenging bills on his behalf. 

  “His success doesn’t come from making good policy. He’s not very smart– he’s an empty suit,” Martinez said.