Kevin McCarthy‘s name might be familiar in Hollywood — his home state is California — and thanks to House of Cards, the job he just left is known to many more Americans than it once was. But the new No. 2 in the U.S. House of Representatives is definitely not a man of Hollywood. He’s not the strong-jawed actor who appeared in about 100 movies, including Death of A Salesman and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. That Kevin McCarthy died in 2010 at 96. No, this Kevin McCarthy is a Bakersfield Republican, whose conservative Central Valley district is big on oil, agriculture and defense. His 23rd District includes the far northern Los Angeles County suburb of Lancaster with its nearby aerospace facilities.
McCarthy was elected as House Majority Leader today after Speaker of the House John Boehner called a hurried leadership election to replace Eric Cantor of Virginia, whose primary loss to a Tea Party candidate June 10 stunned Washington insiders. Steve Scalise, a Louisiana third-termer, was elected over two more moderate candidates to succeed McCarthy as Chief Majority Whip.
Despite his increasing power and nearby geographic base, McCarthy is unlikely to be a Hollywood savior in the mode of Henry Waxman, the retiring Congressman whose liberal coastal Los Angeles district has been the fundraising piggy bank for national Democrats for decades (indeed, Barack Obama is returning to the area for yet another fundraiser in July). In fact, the person who takes that job — Democratic state Sen. Ted Lieu and Republican former prosecutor Elan Carr survived the 17-candidate primary to face off in November — will be challenged to make a mark as a rookie Congressman, no matter which party the winner comes from.
But all that said, despite his party’s many gripes about Hollywood, McCarthy doesn’t mind being seen in the company of at least some of this town’s notables. House Of Cards star Kevin Spacey called McCarthy repeatedly and then followed him on the job for several days while the actor was preparing for his role as a lethally ambitious Democratic House Majority Whip. “I sort of shadowed him to understand what it meant to be the Majority Whip,” Spacey said in one interview. McCarthy called the show, “interesting, intriguing, but a lot of that never happens. It’s a Hollywood version, but it’s always fun to watch.” In a February interview with a Bakersfield TV station, McCarthy even took credit for providing the line, if not the dramatically threatening intonation, that Spacey used in scene where he’s instructing party members on a difficult vote: “Vote your district, vote your conscience, but don’t surprise me.”
The two Kevins became good enough friends that McCarthy joined Spacey at the show’s Season 2 premiere party this year. McCarthy subsequently posted a photo of the two of them on his very busy Instagram account, noting that the show’s second season was coming and “it’s going to be a long weekend.”
And Spacey isn’t the only prominent Hollywood sort to be captured on camera with the new Majority Leader. McCarthy has also posted photos with a member of the Duck Dynasty flock at the State of the Union speech, with Denzel Washington, with Robert De Niro, even with England’s Prince Harry. And of course, for House of Cards fans and conspiracy theorists alike (there may be a substantial Venn diagram overlap of those two groups), Cantor’s stunning loss and McCarthy’s quick elevation to the No. 2 spot in the House only seven years after coming to Congress sounds (cue the Twilight Zone music here) just a little too convenient to be accidental. Perhaps it’s best if we journalists avoid taking subway rides with the congressman for the next few years.