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Republican high-flier sets sights on top post

Mr Kevin McCarthy (centre) is the front runner to replace Mr John Boehner (right) as Speaker of the House.
Mr Kevin McCarthy (centre) is the front runner to replace Mr John Boehner (right) as Speaker of the House.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Congressman Kevin McCarthy favoured to continue meteoric rise and land Speaker's job

To prepare for his role in the television drama series House Of Cards, actor Kevin Spacey shadowed Republican congressman Kevin McCarthy to understand the inner workings of the Capitol, and it seems he learnt from the best.

Mr McCarthy's rise - like that of Spacey's character Frank Underwood - has been nothing short of meteoric.

From House Majority Whip he became Majority Leader, the second most powerful post  in the House of Representatives, last year. The 50-year-old now has his sights set on the top job of Speaker.

He announced his bid last Monday after current Speaker John Boehner said on Sept 25 that he would step down by Oct 30, amid much turmoil in the Republican conference.

But good timing aside, Mr McCarthy is known to be a hard worker and a great fund-raiser who spends time nurturing his alliances.

If Mr McCarthy, who was elected to Congress in 2006, were to attain the Speaker's gavel, it would mark one of the fastest ascents in the House in recent times.

According to a Congressional Research Service report, in the past 125 years it has taken an average of almost 23 years in the House to rise to the rank of Speaker, and Mr McCarthy has less than a decade under his belt.

"We have made real progress towards shrinking an overgrown federal government and reforming our broken entitlement system... but our work is far from done," he wrote in an e-mail to his Republican colleagues.

"We can't ignore the differences that exist, but we can and must heal the divisions in our conference with work, time and trust. That is why I have decided to run for Speaker of the House and graciously ask for your support."

Even before Mr McCarthy announced his bid, many Republicans had shown their support, with a number seen lining up to speak to him on the House floor on the day of Mr Boehner's resignation.

The former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr Daniel Webster, also announced his intention to run for the post, but Mr McCarthy has been touted as the front runner. The vote is scheduled on Thursday.

Considered  a relative moderate in  a party with increasingly conservative factions, Mr McCarthy seems to have been at the right place at the right time throughout his life.

After leaving high school, he won US$5,000 in a lottery which he used to start Kevin O's Deli, a sandwich shop.

He later sold his business to pay his way through college and graduate school at the California State University, Bakersfield.

The biography on his website states that his experience as a small business owner exposed him to "the redundant and frivolous rules along with tedious paperwork and overburdening taxes" that compelled him to enter public service.

He worked for years in local politics in California, and was elected to Congress in 2006, taking the place of his mentor who retired that year.

His move from Majority Whip to Majority Leader also happened quite fortuitously, after Republican Eric Cantor left the post following a surprise defeat in last year's primary election.

But good timing aside, Mr McCarthy is known to be a hard worker and a great fund-raiser who spends time nurturing his alliances.

Known to have distributed some of his funds to other Republicans even before he was sworn into Congress, Mr McCarthy wrote in a 2010 book that he co-authored: "I wanted to start building relationships and help bring more allies to Congress for the hard work I knew lay ahead."

While in Washington, the married father of two works out at the House gym every morning, doing mixed martial arts with other congressmen, and in 2011 he was part of a Republican cycling group.

Reports say that he is always seen having meals with other congressmen and that he travels widely, lending support to fellow Republicans and making appearances not only in swing districts that might influence his party's numbers, but also  in safe conservative districts to get to know his colleagues there.

When he was tasked to lead the recruiting effort for the 2010 mid- term elections, Mr McCarthy reportedly sought out lesser known potential candidates and kept them close when they got into office.

This means that he not only picked some of the most conservative members of the Republican conference, but also helped them to raise funds to get into office.

During his time as Majority Whip from 2011 to 2014, his door was open to young congressmen just finding their footing in the Capitol. His office  often served as a gathering place with snacks and even beer available as he played mentor.

But some have pointed to his lack of experience in that he has never served as a committee chairman and has not introduced any major piece of legislation that defines where he stands on policy issues.

His  highest-profile issue - an effort to  roll back environmental laws which he says have hurt agriculture in California - is not one that has rattled too many cages.

While he is likely to inherit the problems faced by Mr Boehner - in particular, the difficulties in working with the most conservative members of the conference - he is, for now at least, playing to that base.

He told Fox News: "I want to fundamentally change the culture of Washington... we've been governing by crisis... I want to find the most conservative solution I can find."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline 'Republican high-flier sets sights on top post'. Print Edition | Subscribe