In Washington, Kevin McCarthy is an ardent party Republican, one of former President Trump’s most loyal foot soldiers in Congress, and is leading the Republican Party’s effort to regain control of the House of Representatives in November.
But at home in her neighborhood, Cora Shipley is skeptical.
“I don’t believe he’s a real conservative,” said Shipley, 78, the owner of an ice cream shop in Clovis, which was named to the new 20th congressional district last year, where McCarthy is seeking re-election.
Shipley’s is a staple of Old Town Clovis, where antique shops are adorned with American flags and country music plays from loudspeakers. She said she was waiting to see McCarthy lead the Republican Party. should he become Speaker of the House of Representatives next year.
“He’s been on both sides of a lot of issues,” she said from a table at the back of her store, with pictures of Elvis on the walls and a “thin blue line” flag hanging outside.
McCarthy is tasked with introducing himself to more than 200,000 new voters in the district, where the GOP’s registration advantage has grown to almost 20 percentage points, the largest in the state. But even in this red zone, McCarthy is facing distrust from voters on his right, including those who have supported him in the past.
“When you hear people talking about the swamp, it’s part of that system,” said Eric Rollins, 57, of Clovis. “He’s a long-term politician.”
District 20 spans part of California’s San Joaquin Valley, clumsily clinging to the west in its northern half, including Clovis and part of Hanford, both all-red areas new to McCarthy. Much of the area, however, is familiar to the eight-term Republican: Almost a quarter of its population lives in his hometown of Bakersfield, Kern County’s largest city, where oil jacks swing along roads and temperatures top 100 degrees for many days. .
Just two hours north of Los Angeles, Bakersfield is the gateway to Red Island, which some Californians consider flyover country. Here, agriculture and oil dominate culture and, in turn, conservative politics. It’s a region that “looks more like west Texas than Texas,” said Mark Arax, a journalist who has written extensively about it for The Times and others.
McCarthy, 57, is generally popular in Bakersfield, thanks in part to his deep roots in the city: after graduating from public high school, he ran a small sandwich shop and his father was an assistant fire marshal. Supporters say McCarthy has a strong conservative record in Congress, and many are excited about the possibility of one of Kern County’s representatives becoming speaker.
“I don’t know of a single issue that Kevin McCarthy voted on in Congress that wasn’t respected by a conservative,” said Katie Abernathy, 71, a Kern County Republican consultant. When she was Chief of Staff of the Republican Party, the then Rep. Bill Thomas, she hired McCarthy as an assistant.
According to Abernathy, even with the changed area, “the main issues don’t change – it’s the economy, education, transportation.” Locally, she said, some hope that McCarthy’s influence in Washington will help lower environmental regulations that threaten the region’s oil industry.
Others in the area support him based on his good reputation. He’s known as “the guy who goes by his first name,” said Ian Scurlock, a 70-year-old former financial consultant who moved here four years ago. She plans to vote for McCarthy in November.
But in low level or trust Conservatives in institutions and government in the county are palpable – and its manifestation is not always friendly towards McCarthy, who has served in Congress since 2006.
“I’m not sure if I can be sure that he will do exactly what he says,” said Ronnie Martinez, a 51-year-old sales representative from Bakersfield.
Martinez holds a weekly Bible study outside a mall where attendees expressed mixed feelings about the congressman.
“I think he’s kind of like a marshmallow,” said Scott Cross, 65, a music teacher. “I used to really like him. But he’ll support this, and then when that’s unpopular, he’ll support that. And when it’s unpopular to support, he’ll support that.”
McCarthy turned out to be a staunch conservative. leader of the House of Representatives faction of the Republican Party. However, some voters remain unsettled by his instant denunciation of Trump’s run in the January election. 6, 2021, uprising. Others say McCarthy has simply become too comfortable in Washington, where the focus is always on the next election. Anger often seems to be fueled by the conservative media, and many of McCarthy’s right-wing skeptics are swayed by disinformation, espousing false theories about fraud in the 2020 election.
“He’s a snake,” said Greg Williams, 65, a retired California Highway Patrol officer from Bakersfield, who was quick to admit it wasn’t McCarthy’s problem, it was Washington’s. “I don’t trust any politician,” he said.
His peers agree at the shady table outside the Starbucks at the Bakersfield Mall, where Williams gathers every day with a few friends, mostly retirees.
“I just want someone else to come up against him,” said Richard Tidwell, 68, a retired veteran. “Everyone there is corrupt.”
Back in Clovis, Shipley awaits a final decision.
“I want him to tell the truth, and I want him to support the conservative wing of the Republican Party,” she said.
McCarthy can count on the support of most of those who don’t trust him, if only because they have nowhere else to go.
“Look at the alternative,” Tidwell said, referring to the Democrats.
For years, the county’s crimson makeup has protected McCarthy from major political threats, a trend that will almost certainly not change in November when he runs against Democrat Marisa Wood, a public school teacher. He easily reflected the main challenges, including in June, when he won 59% of the vote.
His reaction to the 2020 election has alienated some moderate voters, but even they admit it’s not a big enough bloc to be politically significant.
Dale Pitstick, 60, a lifelong Republican whom Trump turned into an independent, flinched when asked if he had voted for McCarthy in the past. “Mistake,” he said.
In Bakersfield, “people are still rooted in Trump’s world,” Pitstick, who works for an insurance company, said.
In his opinion, McCarthy continues to support Trump after the January events. Attack 6 “revealed who Kevin McCarthy really was.”
“He is a power-hungry man who cares about himself,” Pitstick said, “and not about the citizens.”
Thomas, a former Bakersfield congressman and McCarthy’s mentor, also lambasted his successor after J. 6, speaking on a local talk radio show that he “placed politics before the country” and perpetuated lies about electoral fraud.
McCarthy, whose campaign did not respond to interview requests, backed failed legal attempt this would cancel the 2020 election and then voted against confirming the results from two states. After Jan. On September 6, he condemned Trump’s behavior, saying he was “responsible” for the attack, and recognized Joe Biden as the winner.
McCarthy featured prominently in the hearings of the House Committee of Inquiry into that day’s events. At a prime time hearing on Thursday panel played previously leaked audio recordings in which McCarthy said that Trump should resign.
But since then, he has continued to support Trump. refused to answer the question last month about whether Biden was the legitimate winner of the election.
McCarthy County, California, has seen dramatic demographic changes in recent decades—it now has more than a quarter of Hispanics—but that hasn’t been a problem for him.
David A. Torres’ mother said that if you were born Hispanic, a few things were a guarantee in life: “You were a Democrat and a Catholic” – and you rooted for the Oakland Raiders.
“A lot has changed since then,” said Torres, a 61-year-old Bakersfield lawyer who once considered running against McCarthy as a Democrat. “Because you’re Hispanic doesn’t guarantee you’ll become a Democrat.”
GOP attempts to label Democrats “socialists” and “communists” have worked for many Latino voters, he said, and for some, abortion remains a stumbling block.
But for Rollins, a grassroots political activist from the Clovis neighborhood who hosts an AM radio talk show, these terms are not just Republican mantras.
“I sincerely believe in the rise of authoritarianism,” he said. “You can call it socialism; you can call it communism, but it’s the rise of authoritarianism. They think the state should tell you what to do.”
Rollins said he would be inclined to support McCarthy’s conservative rival if a viable candidate emerged.
His most important issues are economics, “1st and 2nd amendment protection” rights, and immigration. The Second Amendment, he said, “is a backup in case politicians decide we no longer have rights.”
Does it come to this?
“We’re not there yet – that could be,” he said. “I hope not.”