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What’s next for Vince Fong after his special election victory?

Vince Fong speaks to a roomful of supporters at a Tuesday night watch party. The state lawmaker is projected to replace Kevin McCarthy in Congress after the May 21 special election.
Joshua Yeager
Vince Fong speaks to a roomful of supporters at a Tuesday night watch party. The state lawmaker is projected to replace Kevin McCarthy in Congress after the May 21 special election.

It’s unclear when the Bakersfield Republican will head to Washington, D.C. amid congressional deadlock

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Assemblymember Vince Fong is poised to replace his one-time mentor Kevin McCarthy in Congress, where he’ll provide an immediate boost to Republicans who are clinging to a razor-thin majority.

The Associated Press projected a Fong victory just minutes after polls closed in California on Tuesday night. The state lawmaker is leading his opponent Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux by nearly 20 points, according to the California Secretary of State’s office.

Boudreaux conceded on Tuesday and signaled he may drop out of the November election after disappointing early results that largely mirrored those from the March Primary, where Fong cruised to victory with similar margins.

“We’re already working to hit the ground running, already talking to members of Congress … This is the beginning of a new chapter,” Fong told supporters Tuesday night. The candidate highlighted his commitment to domestic oil production, securing more water for farmers and tightening the country’s southern border.

It’s unclear when Fong will make the transition from Sacramento to Washington, D.C. House Speaker Mike Johnson is in talks with state officials but a definitive date hasn’t been set, according to Fong.

The state must certify results by June 28th.

“As soon as the speaker gives the green light, we’ll be on the first flight out,” Fong told KVPR.

Tuesday’s election was to fill the remainder of McCarthy’s congressional term through the end of this year. McCarthy vacated the 20th District seat after he was ousted from the House Speaker position last year.

The choice was easy for Lisa Byers, though the Bakersfield resident said she would be happy with either candidate representing the region in congress.

“I like both guys, but I think I’m going to like this guy [Fong] a little bit better,” she said as she dropped her ballot off Tuesday afternoon.

Other voters like Norman Sobrian supported Boudreaux, pointing to his background in law enforcement.

“I think Vince Fong ought to stay in the position he applied for,” he said, referring to the seat he currently occupies in the state assembly. “It’s important to keep this seat as conservative as possible.”

Former President Donald Trump’s endorsement likely aided Fong in California’s 20th Congressional District, which is considered the state’s most conservative. McCarthy also worked behind the scenes to support Fong. Political action committees aligned with the former speaker funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Central California race. Fong ultimately outraised Boudreaux three-to-one, according to campaign finance records.

Fong previously overcame a legal challenge from California Secretary of State Shirley Weber to appear on the ballot in the first place. Weber argued that Fong was ineligible to run for congress because he was already running for reelection to the state assembly.

An appellate court sided with Fong, and the state dropped its case.

The November general election will determine who holds the seat in the long-term. Voters in the state’s 20th District will choose between Fong and Boudreaux for a fourth time this year, though Fong will have an advantage as the incumbent.

Boudreaux, meanwhile, conceded the race on Tuesday and says his campaign is weighing options for November.

Joshua Yeager is a Report For America corps reporter covering Kern County for KVPR.