Bakersfield lawmaker Vince Fong wins special election to replace Kevin McCarthy in Congress

In the race to replace former Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) in Congress, San Joaquin Valley voters on Tuesday chose Republican Assemblymember Vince Fong, a state lawmaker who was endorsed by Donald Trump.

The Associated Press called California’s 20th Congressional District race for Fong at 8:17 p.m. Fong bested fellow Republican Mike Boudreaux, the Tulare County sheriff.

McCarthy resigned from Congress at the end of 2023 after being voted out as House speaker. Fong will complete McCarthy’s term, which ends in January, representing a vast agricultural district that stretches through Kern, Tulare, Kings and Fresno counties.

In a prepared statement, Fong said that he was “filled with humility and gratitude” at the early results.

“With the campaign over, the real work now begins,” Fong said. “In Congress, I will remain focused on solving the tough issues facing our community — securing the border, supporting small business, bringing investment in water storage and infrastructure, unleashing our energy industry, and keeping the United States safe amidst the grave security threats facing our nation.”

Fong, 44, began his career working for McCarthy’s predecessor, then-Rep. Bill Thomas, then worked for nearly a decade as McCarthy’s district director before winning a seat in the Assembly in 2016.

Boudreaux, 57, has been the sheriff of Tulare County for more than a decade and serves as the head of the California State Sheriffs’ Assn.

Boudreaux said in a prepared statement that he called to congratulate Fong Tuesday night. He added that he was “absolutely humbled by the outpouring of support from family, friends, and neighbors across Fresno, Tulare, Kings, and Kern counties who stepped up to volunteer their time and energy to our campaign and donated generously to spread our message for a better Valley.”

Fong and Boudreaux will meet again in November, when voters will choose a representative for a full two-year term in Congress. Being the incumbent will give Fong a significant advantage.

Although McCarthy was not on the ballot, the former House speaker had a hand in boosting Fong, using his political influence and fundraising prowess to help his handpicked successor.

Fong placed first in the March primary for the full two-year term and the remainder of McCarthy’s term, and raised more than three times as much money as Boudreaux.

Fong also had support from a political action committee called Central Valley Values, which reported raising $950,000 from McCarthy’s Majority Committee PAC and a new PAC funded by major Republican donors, including longtime McCarthy ally Barbara Grimm-Marshall of Bakersfield’s Grimmway Farms, the world’s largest carrot grower.

Fong was also boosted by the endorsement from Trump in March, widely seen as orchestrated by McCarthy. The endorsement was a coup for Fong, who has largely avoided the culture wars that dominate factions of the GOP and sought to win over right-wing Republicans skeptical of the political establishment.

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