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Mike Johnson and Kevin McCarthy

The post-McCarthy California landscape

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — California House Republicans agree that life after former Speaker Kevin McCarthy isn’t smooth sailing.

There’s widespread acknowledgment from at-risk Southern California members that Speaker Mike Johnson isn’t keeping up with McCarthy’s vaunted ability to raise cash and boost his Golden State allies.

The vulnerable incumbents are still confident that they’ll successfully defend their seats in this critical House battleground come November. And some Republicans are boldly claiming it’s no big deal, arguing they’ve been outspent in the past and still won.

“All of our FEC reports are public. So you see we’re getting less from the current speaker than the previous speaker, so we got to work a little harder,” Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) told us after a Memorial Day service. “But we get outraised in Southern California by the Democrats all the time. They can have all the money in the world, but they’re on the wrong side of the policies.”

McCarthy’s ouster last fall sent shockwaves through California politics. The Bakersfield, Calif., native was renowned for his intense focus on boosting Republicans in his home state. Thanks to McCarthy’s sprawling political operation and network of fundraising committees, the California incumbents were the former speaker’s biggest benefactors.

“I miss McCarthy. Of course, McCarthy helped me a lot. I think Mike Johnson is working so hard to try to raise a lot of money,” Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Calif.) told us. But Steel reiterated that even without McCarthy in power, she’s been raising more than a million dollars per quarter.

There’s no bad blood between California Republicans and Johnson. Every vulnerable incumbent we spoke to shared Rep. Ken Calvert’s (R-Calif.) view that, “It’s hard to just walk in and take over overnight” in terms of matching McCarthy.

But the numbers don’t make for pretty viewing.

We calculated the average McCarthy gave and raised for lawmakers through last year versus the average Johnson gave and raised through in the last quarter of 2023 and the first quarter of this year. This analysis included all of the various political arms of both Republicans and joint fundraising accounts created for funneling money to rank-and-file GOP lawmakers.

Garcia received $121,989 less per quarter from Johnson than he did compared to McCarthy. Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.) got $124,944 less, Calvert received $120,578 less and Steel got $128,857 less.

Johnson’s team said the more accurate comparison would be between Q1 2022 and Q1 2024, and argued it was rare for speakers to divert money to incumbents in an election year when they were more focused on challengers. McCarthy did end up directing $800,000 to incumbents in Q1 2022. And while some Republicans — like Steel and Rep. Young Kim (R-Calif.) — did get more from Johnson in Q1 2024 than Q1 2022, there was a huge discrepancy for Calvert.

Calvert received $94,575 from McCarthy in Q1 2022 and only $15,204 in Q1 2024.

In the era of super PACs, money is sure to be flowing to nearly every endangered lawmaker on both sides of the aisle. But direct cash into the coffers of lawmakers is still more valuable because candidates can buy TV time cheaper than PACs or other outside groups.

Democrats are taking notice of the fundraising disparity.

“Calvert was relying on McCarthy to remain speaker to help him keep his seat,” Will Rollins, Calvert’s challenger, told us. “He’s had more trouble getting the money in the committee transfers than he might have had McCarthy been in power.”

Democrat George Whitesides, who’s running against Garcia, told us the fundraising math will allow Democrats to define Garcia in a way former challenger Christy Smith hadn’t.

“His fundraising has really totally taken a nosedive following McCarthy’s ousting,” Whitesides said. “We’re going to have the firepower to take his record and make sure that people know about it.”

— Max Cohen

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.