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California is hosting a special election to replace former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Here’s what to expect

California’s 20th Congressional District will hold a special election to replace former Representative and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy.

Mr McCarthy’s former seat has been open since December when he stepped down two months after the Republican party ousted him as Speaker. After several attempts to find a new speaker, Representative Mike Johnson won the title in October. Prior to retirement, Mr McCarthy had served in the same seat for 17 years.

Now, residents of the 20th District will vote on Tuesday to decide his replacement until January 2025. Here’s what to expect from the district just outside of Los Angeles:

Tuesday could mark an outright winner

All nine candidates running for Mr McCarthy’s former seat will appear on the same ballot this week, regardless of party.

There are two main outcomes of Tuesday’s election. If one candidate wins the majority of votes, they win the seat and will hold it until January 2025, the remainder of Mr McCarthy’s original term.

Representative Kevin McCarthy retired in December 2023 after he was ousted as Speaker of the House (Getty Images)
Representative Kevin McCarthy retired in December 2023 after he was ousted as Speaker of the House (Getty Images)

If a single candidate doesn’t win the majority, the district will hold a run-off election between the top two candidates on 21 May.

Who is running for the former speaker’s seat?

While nine candidates are in the race, there are only a handful expected to be top contenders.

The two Republican front-runners are Vince Fong, a California assemblyman, and Mike Boudreaux, the Tulare County, California sheriff. A Republican Super PAC has backed Mr Fong, whom Mr McCarthy endorsed, with more than $650,000 since he entered the race, The Fresno Bee reports. Former president Donald Trump has also endorsed Mr Fong. Mr Boudreaux, on the other hand, has received mainly local support according to the Associated Press.

Mr Fong and Mr Boudreaux are facing Democratic front-runner Marisa Wood, a public-school teacher. Ms Wood previously ran against Mr McCarthy in 2022, finishing in third place.

While it would be to Mr Fong’s advantage to only face off against Ms Wood in the heavily Republican district, Mr Boudreaux appears to still be a front-runner going into Tuesday.

Why did Speaker McCarthy end his term early?

Mr McCarthy was first elected to the US House of Representatives in 2007, serving as Speaker of the House from January to October 2023.

The Speaker’s downfall was orchestrated by a group of eight Maga-aligned Republicans, led by Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida. Mr Gaetz and his cohort pushed for his removal after Mr McCarthy made a bipartisan deal that averted a government shutdown, going against demands from far-right lawmakers to reject any compromise with Democratic members.

US Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, arrives to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on February 23, 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)
US Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, arrives to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on February 23, 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)

However, personal strife also contributed to Mr McCarthy’s removal, according to some reports.

Mr Gaetz told a friend in private messages that his push to oust the California speaker was revenge for the ethics investigation, The Daily Beast reported earlier this year. However, the Florida congressman denied these reports.

“As I’ve answered likely 100 times on the record, I led the charge to remove Kevin McCarthy from his role as House Speaker because he failed to keep his promises,” Mr Gaetz told the outlet.

In the immediate weeks following his removal, it was unclear if Mr McCarthy would leave Congress entirely. However, he announced his early retirement in December 2023, leaving his seat vacant — until, potentially, this week.