WASHINGTON – The Republican next in line to succeed U.S. House Speaker John Boehner owes his success, in part, to the same grassroots conservatives who have pushed his boss to the exit.
California Representative Kevin McCarthy vaulted to the No. 3 leadership position in the House of Representatives after his party won control of the chamber in 2010 by harnessing the conservative Tea Party movement.
He climbed to the No. 2 spot last year, when House Republican Leader Eric Cantor lost his seat as representative from Virginia to a Tea Party challenger.
Now, the 50-year-old McCarthy is the front-runner to take control of the Republican-led House after Boehner, 65, announced on Friday he will resign from the chamber on Oct. 30. McCarthy has not said whether he will run for the post, but no clear rival has emerged.
Paul Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, said he does not want Boehner’s job, while Idaho Representative Raul Labrador, a Tea Party conservative who challenged McCarthy for the No. 2 spot last year, said he would not take him on this time.
McCarthy declined to speak to reporters on Friday, instead issuing a statement that called for “healing and unifying to face the challenges ahead.”
Boehner and McCarthy are 15 years apart in age, but some who know them say they share the same low-key leadership style.
“Neither of them are bombastic people,” said Democratic Representative John Garamendi, a fellow Californian.
McCarthy has worked hard to build personal bonds with the restive conservatives who worked to topple Boehner.
Stripped of the power to hand out pet spending projects known as earmarks by recent reforms, McCarthy has offered a friendly ear and slices of pizza while trying to build support.
That has not always worked. McCarthy and the Republican leadership have had to cancel some high-profile votes after they over-estimated support from fellow Republicans, handing victories to President Barack Obama’s Democrats.
Tea Party groups were already putting McCarthy on notice.
“McCarthy knows the reason he’s in this job is because the grassroots took out Cantor and the Freedom Caucus took out Boehner. He damn well better be paying attention,” said Adam Brandon, head of FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy network.
A native of Bakersfield, California, McCarthy used $5,000 in lottery winnings to start a sandwich shop after high school. He won election to the California legislature at age 37.
Elected to Congress in 2006, McCarthy helped recruit candidates and craft a unifying message in the 2010 election that handed Republicans House control. He was rewarded with a post as the chamber’s chief vote counter.
Like many conservatives, McCarthy wants to shut down the Export-Import Bank over the objection of some big businesses.
He represents a heavily Republican district in California’s San Joaquin Valley. While other Republicans from the region have called for immigration reform, McCarthy has not joined them.