Rep. Kevin McCarthy energized by Republican’s minority party status

Rep. Kevin McCarthy energized by Republican’s minority party status

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) believes this is the best time to be a Republican in Congress.

While others in the party wring their hands and reminisce about the days when they controlled the White House and Congress, McCarthy is energized by the GOP’s lack of power.

“At no other time would I want to serve,” McCarthy recently told his constituents. “I might be in the minority, but more people are paying attention to politics and if I went in there in the majority and everything was fine, no one would listen to me. This is chaos! This is what I love.”

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The California lawmaker, who is serving his second term, is uniquely positioned in the House Republican Conference. He is in charge of recruiting GOP candidates for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and rallying up votes for the minority as chief deputy  whip. Last year, he was named chairman of the platform committee for the Republican National Convention.

In an interview with The Hill, McCarthy says Republicans “have a great opportunity to take [the House] back. Do we have our work cut out for us? Yes.”

The 44-year-old legislator says he has studied how then-Democratic campaign chief Rahm Emanuel wrestled control of the lower chamber from GOP in the 2006 cycle.

Echoing Emanuel’s comments of a few years ago, McCarthy says House Republicans have A-, B-, and C-level recruits. But he maintains that Emanuel had 45 recruits a year before the 2006 midterm election, and the NRCC has 63 now. McCarthy adds that 51 of the 74 House Republicans who won in the historic 1994 election launched their bid after the 1993 elections.

Unlike House Minority Whip Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorRepublicans eager to take on Spanberger in Virginia Virginia emerging as ground zero in battle for House majority McAuliffe's loss exposes deepening Democratic rift MORE (R-Va.), McCarthy is not a partisan bomb-thrower. And while liberal blogs relish going after Cantor, McCarthy hasn’t grabbed much of their attention. At least not yet.

Gesturing with his hands, McCarthy talks fast, so fast that his mouth sometimes has trouble keeping up.

But he can be cautious when necessary. While Cantor boldly predicted the House GOP would be completely unified against the Democrats’ healthcare reform bill, McCarthy said “very, very close to zero” Republicans would back it. One Republican, Rep. Joseph Cao (La.), ultimately defected.

Like ex-Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif), his predecessor in Congress, McCarthy quickly pivots from one topic to another — while folding many of them into a summarizing point.

McCarthy employs the phrase “Structure dictates behavior” three times in an hour-long interview to explain winning elections as well as why Tiger Woods left California (McCarthy says it was because of the state’s tax rate).

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According to colleagues, including deputy NRCC Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.), McCarthy has a knack for outside-of-the-box recruitment.

“He’s creative in terms of techniques of identifying and recruiting candidates,” Walden said.

McCarthy’s recruiting brain trust includes GOP Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersRepublicans question NBC over coverage of Beijing Olympics Hillicon Valley — Biden's misinformation warning Lawmakers call on tech firms to take threat of suicide site seriously, limit its visibility MORE (R-Wash.) and Reps. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and Geoff Davis (R-Ky.), among others.

Westmoreland spent more than a week on the road with McCarthy on a recruiting trip over the August recess, traveling throughout the Midwest and parts of the South. He said McCarthy does “what it takes to win and he plays hard. I think that’s something that a lot of people lack up here is the ability to play hard and endure.”

During the summer, McCarthy held town hall meetings while other California lawmakers avoided them. McCarthy emphasizes the need to communicate with constituents — even when it poses a threat.

Twenty minutes before facing a crowd of more than 3,000 people this summer, McCarthy was introduced to a flank of plain clothes officers assigned to protect him. If things got out of control, the officers told McCarthy, they had arranged an escape route for him. It wasn’t needed.

Without doubt, McCarthy sees the glass half-full. As the Republican Party battles with itself over whether it should turn toward the middle or sharply right, McCarthy says these skirmishes should play out in the primaries.

“I’m not opposed to primaries. I think primaries are healthy,” he said.

Asked how Republicans can win the House when poll numbers suggest otherwise, McCarthy smiles and responds, “Our numbers aren’t the highest.”

He was elected as part of the smallest GOP class (13 members) since 1914 in the Democrats’ wave of 2006, but opines that Republicans are making progress. In 2006, he said, not one Democratic incumbent lost, but last year — a year he dubs “The Year of Obama” — a handful of Democratic incumbents were ousted.

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“I think we’re in a great place,” he says.

McCarthy asserts the NRCC has learned from recent special elections that voters are looking for fresh faces, not entrenched incumbents. (McCarthy says he was not involved in the recruiting of centrist Republican Dede Scozzafava in New York’s 23rd district, but he did endorse and contribute to her campaign.)

McCarthy has a warning for Democrats who have been in Washington for a decade or longer: “If you are an incumbent and been here five terms, you should be concerned.”

Most of these incumbents will survive, but McCarthy is attempting to expand the playing field — a must for the GOP if it hopes of winning the House anytime soon.

David Wasserman, who tracks House races for The Cook Political Report, gives McCarthy high marks: “McCarthy is someone who demonstrates to candidates that not all members of Congress have to be intransigent, sticks in the mud,” he said, adding that Republicans have recruited close to 40 potential top-tier candidates.

Wasserman agrees with McCarthy’s contention that Republicans are better positioned in candidate recruitment now than they were in 1993.” But he notes it’s too early to tell whether that will lead to a red wave next fall.

McCarthy has a bright future in the GOP because he can discuss campaign politics at the state and local level and also dive deep into the weeds of policy.

For example, the Financial Services Committee member disputes the notion that much more government regulation is needed in the wake of the 2008 financial-markets collapse. McCarthy, one of the few members who recommends on his website books to read, spoke at length about the failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

A father of two who married his high school sweetheart, McCarthy didn’t go to college straight from high school.

Instead, he won $5,000 in a state lottery and launched what would become a successful sandwich shop in Bakersfield. He eventually did go to college in his hometown, earning two degrees in business from California State  University, Bakersfield.