California lawmaker Vince Fong wins special election to finish ousted House Speaker McCarthy’s term

Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, at the Capitol, Thursday, May 18, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Vince Fong, a California State Assembly member backed by former President Donald Trump, won a special election Tuesday to complete the remainder of the term of deposed former U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, which runs through January.

A McCarthy protege who also had the former speaker’s endorsement, Fong defeated fellow Republican and Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux in the 20th Congressional District, in the state’s Central Valley farm belt.

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.

“With the campaign over, the real work now begins,” Fong said in a statement, adding that he will focus on border security, supporting small business and investing in water storage critical to the region's agriculture.

It wasn’t immediately clear when Fong will be sworn in — that decision falls to current House Speaker Mike Johnson.

Turnout appeared to be light for the unusual May election, for which mail-in voting began last month.

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

Republicans occupy only 11 of the state’s 52 U.S. House seats. With the district once held by McCarthy remaining in GOP hands, it will give Republicans 12 seats in the state delegation and boost the party's fragile edge in Congress by a single vote.

There are 217 Republicans in the House, 213 Democrats and five vacancies, including McCarthy's former seat.

The special election only covers the time remaining in McCarthy’s term. Fong and Boudreaux will reprise their contest again in November for a full two-year term in the district, though the winner of the special election will gain the advantage of incumbency.

In a statement Boudreaux said he congratulated Fong in a phone call, thanked volunteers and donors for their support and signaled that he already was gearing up for November.

“California faces a crime crisis unlike any other in its history. That’s why I will be stepping up the fight for a safer Valley and safer California,” Boudreaux said.

Some voters might be confused, since Fong and Boudreaux already have appeared on two House ballots this year — the March 5 statewide primary for the full House term, and the March 19 primary in the special election to fill out McCarthy's term.

The two conservative Republicans and Trump supporters occupy much of the same policy terrain. Boudreaux has spotlighted his decades of law-and-order experience and promised to harden the nation’s porous border. Fong also promised to “end the chaos” at the border with Mexico while prioritizing water and energy needs in the farm belt.

Fong, a onetime McCarthy aide, entered the contest with advantages beyond the endorsements from Trump and McCarthy.

He carried 42% of the vote in the March primary, with Boudreaux getting nearly 26% and the remainder divided among other candidates. Fong hails from the most populous part of the district, Kern County, and he outraised the sheriff by about 3 to 1 in campaign funds, according to federal records through the end of March.

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 exposed rivalries within his own party. He has worked behind the scenes to promote Fong's candidacy — a political action committee linked to McCarthy steered over $700,000 into the 20th District contest to boost Fong's campaign.

McCarthy resigned last year after being ousted as speaker.