California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) called Monday for a special election for May 21 to fill the remainder of the term of former congressman Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who retired last month after becoming the first House speaker voted out of his leadership position.
The primary will take place on March 19, giving candidates in the solidly Republican, Bakersfield area district longer to campaign than many expected. The race has already attracted a competitive field.
Under California’s open primary system, all candidates, regardless of party, are listed on one ballot. The top two finishers, regardless of party, move on to the general election.
McCarthy was elected House Speaker last January after a historic 15 rounds of votes on the House floor where holdouts in his party aired their misgivings about him. McCarthy cut numerous deals with the holdouts to win their support, including one that allowed any single member to call a vote at any time on whether to remove McCarthy from the speakership. After just nine months on the job, eight Republicans joined with Democrats and voted McCarthy out of the speakership.
In December McCarthy said he would retire from Congress at the end of the month. He announced his retirement in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, writing: “I have decided to depart the House at the end of this year to serve America in new ways.”
McCarthy’s retirement will end a 17-year House career in which he rose quickly through the ranks of Republican leadership by using his affable nature to maintain relationships and keep obstructionists close, culminating with his nine-month stint as speaker. His ouster marked the first time in history that the House voted to remove its leader, a move that threw the chamber into a period of instability.
More than three dozen House members have announced they will not seek reelection in 2024 because they are retiring or seeking other offices.
Marianna Sotomayor, Mariana Alfaro, Jacqueline Alemany and Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed reporting.