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5 Things You Need to Know About Kevin McCarthy

Kevin McCarthy
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leaves House Speaker John Boehner's office on the day after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., was defeated in the Virginia primary at the hands of a tea party challenger, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

A guide to the California Republican who is now leading candidate for House Majority Leader

Rep. Kevin McCarthy seems to be the frontrunner to succeed his former mentor Eric Cantor as majority leader, now that the majority whip’s main rival, Rep. Pete Sessions, has exited the race.

The affable Californian is well-liked within the conference, though as a spate of embarrassing lost votes shows, he’s no arm twister. McCarthy is a former staffer to the irascible Rep. Bill Thomas, the legendary Ways & Means Committee chairman whose seat McCarthy filled when he retired eight years ago.

But that doesn’t make him the wonk that Thomas was. By all accounts, McCarthy is better with the style than the substance. The one-time owner of Kevin O’s deli (his middle name is Owen) hails from the most conservative district in the most liberal state and has become the GOP ambassador to Silicon Valley.

Here are five things you need to know about the 49-year-old California representative:

  1. He has unusual ways of motivating his conference. In 2011, ahead of a contentious vote to raise the debt ceiling, McCarthy played House Republicans a clip from the movie, The Town, a 2010 Boston crime drama starring Jeremy Renner and Ben Affleck.In the segment of footage reportedly shown, Doug MacRay, a bank robber played by Affleck, says to his friend Jem Coughlin, played by Renner, “I need your help. I can’t tell you what it is. You can never ask me about it later. And we’re going to hurt some people.” Jem then responds, “Whose car are we gonna take?”
  2. He won the lottery! At age 19, he won $5,000 in the state lottery and invested it in a deli, Kevin O’s. An old menu boasts: “We offer fresh Dutch Krunch white rolls every day,” according to the Orange County Register. Long before Quiznos, sandwiches were offered “hot upon request.” He charged $3.95 for an 8-inch Turkey Supreme, according to the Register. The profits from the business helped pay for business school at Cal State Bakersfield.
  3. Schwarzenegger is his bud. McCarthy was elected to the State Assembly in 2002 where he was immediately elected Republican leader. He worked with then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on the budget, redistricting and worker’s compensation issues. The two remain close.
  4. He inspired the character of Francis Underwood Actor Kevin Spacey, who portrays House Majority Whip Francis Underwood in the Netflix series “House of Cards” shadowed McCarthy to learn about the job. Spacey told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos earlier this year: “I don’t envy him the position. It’s not easy. But it was fascinating for me to go to a couple of whip meetings and actually see what the agenda is, what they’re going to put out there, how they do it. For me, it was very helpful to feel what it was like to actually whip. And the show gets the details of the setting and the conversation right.” In fact, in Episode 9 of the first season, Underwood says “Vote your district, vote your conscience, don’t surprise me” — a line McCarthy actually uses with his members. McCarthy told CNN Spacey took the line from his time shadowing the whip. That said, McCarthy aides have been careful to say that the adulterous murdering Underwood is not based on McCarthy.
  5. He works out while he schmoozes. Forget poker and smoke-filled back rooms, McCarthy likes to get his members out for C&O Canal or Rock Creek bike rides, or, as inspired by fellow Young Gun Paul Ryan, early morning PX90 classes.

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