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Who is leading in the special primary election to finish Kevin McCarthy’s congressional term?

Fresno Bee
Early results from the special primary election in California’s 20th Congressional District suggest there will be a May runoff in the race to replace retired Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

This is the second of what looks like four elections in California’s 20th, the state’s most heavily GOP congressional district where 47% of registered voters are Republican and 27% are Democrats.

Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, led in early returns — he had 40.4% of the votes with an estimated 81% counted, according to the Associated Press at 8:30 p.m. Pacific Time. Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, a Republican, had 26.1%. Bakersfield school teacher Marisa Wood, a Democrat, had 23.6%.

The special election will determine who immediately succeeds McCarthy, 59, who retired in December after his ousting as Speaker of the House.

If a candidate gets a majority of votes in the primary, they win outright. If not, there’s a May 21 runoff between the top two vote-getters. Whoever wins will be sworn in swiftly to complete McCarthy’s term, which ends in January 2025.

Boudreaux, 56, has been Tulare County Sheriff for over a decade. Currently president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, he has worked in Tulare County law enforcement since age 19 and has earned several key local endorsements.

Fong, 44, is McCarthy’s chosen heir. He served as McCarthy’s district director for almost a decade before his election to the Assembly. Born in Bakersfield, Fong started his political career as an aide to former Republican Rep. Bill Thomas, McCarthy’s predecessor. He got former President Donald Trump’s endorsement on Feb. 20 and again on Sunday for the special election.

Wood, a 63-year-old school teacher in Bakersfield, challenged and lost to McCarthy in 2022.

It’s still too early to tell who will advance — counties have a month to report election results to California’s secretary of state.

What’s happening in the March 5 primary?

Whoever wins the special election will also get some incumbency advantage before November. The top two vote-getters, Fong and Boudreaux, will compete in November for the two-year term, the AP projected last week. With an estimated 98% of the votes counted as of Tuesday morning, Fong had 42% and Boudreaux had 24%. Wood had 21.3%.

Some candidates were on the ballot for both elections while other contenders opted just for the March 5 or March 19 elections.

Facing a Democrat in May and November for the state’s reddest congressional district would have made it easier for a Republican to win. A GOP-funded committee affiliated with McCarthy allies spent more than $650,000 before March 5 to try to elevate Fong and Wood over Boudreaux.

Does Fong’s candidacy face a legal challenge?

A legal challenge by California’s chief elections officer, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, could erase Fong’s congressional candidacy in the general election. The challenge does not apply to the special election.

Before April 12, Weber hopes that a state appeals court will disqualify Fong as a congressional candidate because he is on the ballot for both the 20th Congressional and 32nd Assembly District, which he currently represents.

Fong ended up on the ballot for both thanks to a messy game of succession.

McCarthy announced his retirement two days before California’s electoral filing deadline. Since McCarthy, the incumbent, was not running, the filing deadline for California’s 20th was extended until Dec. 13. Fong originally declined to run to succeed his former boss before the Dec. 8 deadline to qualify for his Assembly race, which he did.

State Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, who will be termed out of the Legislature come 2026 and appeared McCarthy’s likely successor, announced she would not run a few days later. Following her announcement, Fong changed his mind, announced his bid for Congress before the deadline and gathered McCarthy’s endorsement.

Weber said in December that, under elections code, Fong could neither withdraw from the Assembly race nor be on the ballot for competing offices. She said she would bar him from running in the 20th. But a Sacramento Superior Court judge granted Fong’s request to be on the ballot for the Assembly and Congress on Dec. 28. Weber, up against a deadline, include him on the certified list of candidates for both races.

At the end of January, Weber asked an appeals court to erase Judge Shelleyanne W. L. Chang’s ruling by April 12. If the court grants her request, she would block him from the Nov. 5 ballot.

Fong was uncontested in the 32nd Assembly District’s primary. There were write-in candidates.

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