Who will succeed retiring Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy in his red California district?

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There’s no clear favorite to succeed Kevin McCarthy in his Bakersfield-based congressional district, but it’s very likely to be a Republican. Beyond that, the picture is hazy.

A retirement before year’s end means California Gov. Gavin Newsom must call for a special election to fill his House seat until his term expires in Jan. 2025. But it comes down to exactly when McCarthy leaves, according to California law.

He left matters vague Wednesday, when he announced in a Wall Street Journal op-ed he was leaving Congress “at the end of this year to serve America in new ways.”

The district is solidly red, covering parts of Kern, Fresno, Tulare and Kings counties.

“I don’t know who the candidates might be, but based on 2020 presidential numbers, it is the most Republican district in the state,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which analyzes elections. “Donald Trump won it by 25 points — it is too red of a district for Democrats to seriously contest it.”

A handful of contenders from both sides of the aisle said prior to McCarthy’s announcement that they would run.

Two Republicans, David Giglio, a Madera Ranchos business owner, and Matthew Piatt, an Oregon consultant, already entered the field.

Democrat Marisa Wood, a Bakersfield school teacher who fell to McCarthy by more than 34 percentage points in the 2022 election, said she is running again.

Democrats John Burrows, a Fresno public affairs entrepreneur, and Andy Morales of Bakersfield, a recent college graduate working in private security, are also running. Ben Dewell, who ran as a Democrat in the primary for California’s 20th last year, is campaigning in 2024 as an Independent.

Several Republicans from the southern San Joaquin Valley could mount campaigns: State Sen. Shannon Grove of Bakersfield; retiring Assemblyman Devon Mathis of Porterville; Assemblyman Vince Fong; and Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig. They were all mentioned as potential candidates during conversations with consultants this week.

Former Rep. Devin Nunes, a Tulare Republican, left Congress at the beginning of 2022 to run former President Donald Trump’s media venture. Now his name has been tossed around by political experts to succeed McCarthy. He had $11.4 million remaining in his campaign account at the end of September.

None have announced.

There’s still time for other contenders to file necessary paperwork: When an incumbent does not run again, other candidates get a five-day extension of the Dec. 8 deadline.

Whomever runs, a McCarthy endorsement would definitely be a plus. “He’s highly popular in his district,” said David Wasserman, senior editor and elections analyst for the Cook Political Report.

Asked if there’s a favorite, Wasserman said, “It’s too fresh for me to say.”

McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday or last week.

Will there be a special election in California?

Here are some of the ifs and whens surrounding a special election:

  • If McCarthy resigns after the filing deadline but before the beginning of 2024, Newsom gets up to 14 days after the seat is vacated to call a special election.

  • The special election must be on a Tuesday 126 to 140 days after the declaration. The special election would have its own primary, nine or 10 weeks prior, which could put it on the March 5 primary ballot.

  • Again, it comes down to when McCarthy resigns. If he waits until January, Newsom gets to decide. If a seat is vacated during the final year of a term (which 2024 is), then no special election is required, Alex Stack, a spokesman for Newsom, said.

  • Candidates must decide whether they will compete in both the special election — if there is one — and the regularly scheduled elections next year. They do not have to run in both. When Nunes left, Republican Connie Conway, a former assemblywoman, won the special election and served for just six months.