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California lawmaker Vince Fong wins special election to end ousted Speaker of the House McCarthy’s term

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Vince Fonga member of the California State Assembly, endorsed by the former president Donald Trumpwon a special election on Tuesday to complete the remainder of ousted former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy’s term, which runs through January.

Fong, a McCarthy protege who also had the former speaker’s support, defeated fellow Republican and Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux in the 20th Congressional District, in the Central Valley’s farm belt.

Because of Trump’s involvement, the race will be seen as a possible proxy vote on the former president’s influence as he heads toward an all-but-certain contest against President Joe Biden in November.

“Now that the campaign is over, the real work begins,” Fong said in a statement, adding that he will focus on border security, supporting small businesses and investing in water storage that is crucial to the region’s agriculture.

It was not immediately clear when Fong will be sworn in; that decision rests with the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson.

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Turnout appeared low in the unusual May election, for which mail-in voting began last month.

Trump endorsed Fong in February, calling him “a true Republican.” Boudreaux’s supporters include Richard Grenell, a former acting director of national intelligence in the Trump administration, and Republican Sen. Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, Fong’s home base.

Republicans hold only 11 of the 52 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. With the district once held by McCarthy remaining in Republican hands, Republicans will gain 12 seats in the state delegation and strengthen the party’s fragile lead in Congress by a single vote.

There are 217 Republicans in the House of Representatives, 213 Democrats and five vacancies, including McCarthy’s former seat.

The special election only covers the remainder of McCarthy’s term. Fong and Boudreaux will resume running for a full two-year term in the district in November, although the winner of the special election will get the incumbency advantage.

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In a statement, Boudreaux said he congratulated Fong by phone, thanked volunteers and donors for their support and indicated he was already preparing for November.

“California is facing a crime crisis unlike any other in its history. That’s why I will step up the fight for a safer Valley and safer California,” said Boudreaux.

Some voters may be confused, as Fong and Boudreaux have already appeared on two ballots in the House of Representatives this year: the March 5 statewide primary for the full House term, and the March 19 primary at the special election to fill out McCarthy’s term.

The two conservative Republicans and Trump supporters are largely in the same policy arena. Boudreaux has highlighted his decades of experience in public policy and vowed to harden the country’s porous border. Fong also pledged to “end the chaos” at the border with Mexico, while prioritizing water and energy needs in agricultural areas.

Fong, once a McCarthy aide, entered the race with benefits beyond Trump and McCarthy’s endorsements.

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He received 42% of the vote in the March primary, with Boudreaux receiving nearly 26% and the rest distributed among other candidates. Fong comes from the county’s most populous part, Kern County, and he increased the sheriff’s office by about 3-to-1 in campaign money through the end of March, according to federal data.

McCarthy’s dramatic fall in the House of Representatives — he is the only speaker in history to be voted out of office — made for a messy race to succeed him that exposed rivalries within his own party. He has worked behind the scenes to promote Fong’s candidacy — a political action committee tied to McCarthy has sent more than $700,000 to the 20th District race to boost Fong’s campaign.

McCarthy resigned last year after being ousted as chairman.

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