At the Kern County Fair this weekend, monster trucks roar in a grandstand, all-Alaskan racing pigs squeal in a tent, and at the county Republican party table, voters smile and pose next to a life-sized cardboard picture of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
In Bakersfield, California, the legislative chaos in the House of Representatives pushing the country to the brink of a government shutdown – starring the town’s favorite son, Speaker McCarthy – hardly registers in this agricultural and oil producing region.
In this Republican district in a solidly Democratic state, belief in McCarthy’s ability to steer his caucus to a resolution remains steadfast, because the born-and-bred Bakersfield native carries the ideals of his city, said longtime ally Cathy Abernathy.
“We deal in real life’s realities here,” said Abernathy from her Bakersfield office to CNN. “You have to water that crop and pick it on time, no matter what’s going on. You have to make it work. There isn’t a choice. People in the Central Valley understand deadlines and the forces that fight it while we make it work. And Kevin is one of us.”
That confidence contrasts to the alarm blaring miles away in the nation’s capital.
McCarthy’s speakership now hangs in the balance with the clock ticking towards a potential government shutdown and calls from the most conservative members of the House Republican caucus threatening to oust him from the role he struggled mightily to obtain earlier this year. McCarthy has clashed with far-right members who oppose increased domestic spending and additional aid for Ukraine and have blocked multiple efforts by McCarthy to avoid a shutdown. Some of those far-right members are willing to push for McCarthy to be removed as speaker to prevent him from working across the aisle to pass a short-term government funding bill.
“If Speaker McCarthy relies on Democrats to pass a continuing resolution, I would call the Capitol moving truck to his office pretty soon because my expectation would be he’d be out of the Speaker’s office quite promptly,” Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of those hardline Republican members, told CNN on Wednesday.
“We will have a government shutdown, and it is absolutely Speaker McCarthy’s fault,” he added.
Taft, California, Mayor Dave Noerr brushed off Gaetz’s fiery quotes, calling it “ridiculous.” On the very public pressure facing McCarthy, Noerr told CNN he sees it as part of the bare knuckle fight of Washington, but nothing new for the speaker or the region that raised a young McCarthy.
‘Kevin will get this done’
In Bakersfield, he’s not just speaker of the House. He’s known as the son of a firefighter, born and raised in the Central Valley. He is the area’s most famous homegrown national office holder – community college, college and master’s degree all from this area – whose less-than-stellar grades would suggest a far less powerful career path. But like the working town that raised him, the lack of polish would impart lessons that guide McCarthy today.
“We’re made up of thick skin,” Noerr said. “We’re hard working. We are oil and gas, ranching and farming. We are not a ruckus crowd. But we are strong and get it done.”
Noerr referred to the intra-party war McCarthy faced to becoming speaker, one that he would ultimately win.
With House Republicans holding a slim majority in the 118th Congress, the now-familiar group of GOP hard-liners prompted a messy and historic floor fight for control of the speaker’s gavel. After voting had spilled into a fifth day, McCarthy broke through by conceding to a series of demands that weakened the power of the speakership.
It’s the sort of compromise that McCarthy understands must happen in governance, said Abernathy.
“People talking about trying to bring in moving vans are just fundraising,” said Abernathy, adding Gaetz is trying to “keep the pot boiling for national attention. Kevin will get this done, one way or another. Anyone who really knows Kevin McCarthy knows he’s up to the task.”
Bakersfield conservative Paul Stine has known McCarthy since 1995, battling with him since they were young Republicans. When they first met, Stine considered McCarthy as too centrist, more like Arnold Schwarzenegger than Donald Trump.
“Kevin can adapt,” Stine said. “But Matt Gaetz is making it hard for him to adapt this time. Gaetz and the rest are making it hard to get the budget out of the House unless he decides to work with the Democrats.”
That sort of political blow to the right wing would be tough for Stine to swallow. But it would follow a characteristic that Stine said has followed McCarthy throughout his professional life – political survival.
Stine said, “I don’t know what his exit plan today is, but he is the most adaptable politician I have ever seen in my life.”