WASHINGTON — Hanging on the wall in the Capitol Hill office of Rep. Kevin Mc-Carthy is a painting in two panels by Bakersfield artist Gita Lloyd showing nine riders on horseback.
McCarthy imagines himself as one of them, ready to charge into battle to restore a Republican majority in the House. Most people in Washington think McCarthy’s mission risks the same fate as that of Gen. George Custer. Following a third consecutive loss for Republicans in special elections last month in a Mississippi district that is heavily Republican, Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, observed that the public had “lost confidence” in the party.
But what other Republican leaders see as dismal prospects ahead in the November elections McCarthy is treating as an opportunity, and that sense of optimism is propelling him to new heights in the party.
The freshman Republican and former minority leader of the state Assembly — whose district includes inland parts of San Luis Obispo County — was
mentioned as a possible replacement for Cole as head of the NRCC, the political arm of the Republican conference. That was, until Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, announced that there would be no election-year musical chairs — despite how grim the prospects seemed for November.
Instead, Boehner created a 12-member panel to advise Cole and the NRCC. Mc-Carthy is one of its members. Just a couple of weeks before that, Cole appointed McCarthy as chairman of the party’s powerful platform committee for the August convention in St. Paul.
“I am confident that Rep. McCarthy will effectively lead this committee to develop a forward-looking platform,” said NRC chairman Robert M. “Mike” Duncan in announcing McCarthy’s appointment.
In an interview Wednesday, McCarthy said he is reading the complete transcripts of previous platform committee meetings to pre-pare himself for August, vowing to reach out as far and wide as he can to involve rank-and-file party members in shaping the contents of the positions that will guide the party through the presidential elections.
But where McCarthy is devoting much of his effort now is with the House Republican Young Guns organization he helped form.
Formed with Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to elect fresh-thinking Republicans to the House, the group has since grown to 55 House members who have adopted candidates in 19 races around the country. Each of the candidates receives financial support and political advice.
“Going on the offense is what we have to do,” Mc-Carthy said. “It helps us maintain the seats we have now. But it also helps us to move toward electing a Republican majority.”
With no opposition for his own election to a second term in November, McCarthy has more than $780,000 for his re-election campaign and has raised nearly $75,000 for his political action committee, the Majority PAC, to help elect GOP House members.
In California, the Young Guns are focusing their efforts on Dean Andal in his race to defeat Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, for the 11th Congressional District seat once held by Rep. Richard Pombo.
Despite the boyish confidence and enthusiasm McCarthy brings to the task, he said the Republican Party faces a steep road in November, when a 19-seat gain would restore it to majority power in the House.
“We’ve got potential,” McCarthy said. “But the climate is very difficult for us.”