Every time I see a photo of Republican leadership — or a clip of them on “The Daily Show” — I see Rep. Kevin McCarthy in the background.
Sometimes you see his entire head, other times just a portion of his face. But he’s always there.
In this photo, he’s the guy on the left, as Speaker of the House John Boehner gives a statement. In the photo below, he’s on the right, behind majority leader Eric Cantor.
Of course, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s always around during these newsy moments. McCarthy, who represents large portions of San Luis Obispo County — including Paso Robles, Atascadero and portions of Arroyo Grande — is the majority whip in the House, a leadership position that makes him California’s most powerful national politician. He’s still a rising star of the party, though, so he’s invited to the stage but seldom gets heard on TV clips.
But McCarthy’s rise has been fast — and will continue to be if his buddy Paul Ryan becomes vice-president.
I met McCarthy when he was still a district director for then-Rep. Bill Thomas. McCarthy was very personable and easy-going. A likeable guy.
At the time, he was just getting ready to run for state assembly — his first run for elected office — and he seemed like a shoe-in. Once Thomas retired, McCarthy easily slipped in to fill his former boss’s shoes.
Thomas was, of course, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which gave him a lot of clout. So with McCarthy now acting as majority whip, that means the county has had two influential representatives back-to-back. (Lois Capps, a Democrat, represents the rest of the county, along with large parts of Santa Barbara County.)
While McCarthy is not well-known enough to be heard on “The Daily Show,” he has aligned himself with the young GOP leaders Cantor and Ryan. He even works out with Ryan, doing the P90X workout that’s suddenly getting so much attention, thanks to Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate.
His P90X workouts probably have more to do with building political muscle than anything else, though. This is Washington, after all, a place where it pays to be in the right place, whether it be a power-broking bar like Bullfeathers or a gym where making contacts is more important than burning calories.
McCarthy has also written a book with both Cantor and Ryan, called “Young Guns,” about their vision for the country.
You can debate whether that vision is good for the country — and many will as they scrutinize Ryan’s recent budget proposals, which drastically cut social programs and offer large tax breaks to the wealthy. But one thing you can be sure of: Since his election in 2006, McCarthy’s political muscle has grown quickly. And it’s not unrealistic to think that he one day he might become Speaker of the House or a VP candidate himself, surpassing Thomas’s clout.
But until then, he’ll be the guy behind Boehner, silently waiting in the wings.
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