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By ROBERT PRICE
Many in Bakersfield still remember Kevin McCarthy as the young, charismatic frozen-yogurt shop entrepreneur who grabbed hold of Congressman Bill Thomas' coattails and hung on for a decade.
Then his turn came, and McCarthy needed all of one term to ascend to minority leader of the California Assembly. Then, two years later, upon Thomas' retirement, he waltzed into Congress. Four years later, he was the House majority whip -- the third-ranking post in the GOP's congressional leadership.
Now, with the ascension of fellow "Young Gun" Paul Ryan to the No. 2 spot on the Republican ticket, McCarthy might be in line for yet another elevation of his national profile.
If the Romney-Ryan team prevails in November, one of the three Young Guns will have left the House of Representatives. Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the other "gun" in this leadership triumvirate, will still be in place right behind John Boehner, of course. But with Ryan's career suddenly tracking on a different plane, McCarthy's influence in the House will have been further enhanced. Whether a lot or a little remains to be seen.
McCarthy would likely move up to a higher post "when and if the current House Speaker John Boehner were to leave," Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews wrote last week. But even if Boehner and Cantor stay right where they are -- and, for now, that's a virtual certainty -- Ryan's possible shift to the executive branch of government is likely to provide McCarthy with a much better view of the big picture.
The National Review's Robert Costa writes that Ryan and McCarthy are friends who immediately "clicked" when they met. "During the twilight years of the Bush administration," Costa noted last week, "the pair began to discuss a congressional Republican renewal, with policy and fresh leadership at the fore."
It seems safe to say Vice President Ryan would take Rep. McCarthy's phone calls.
Should President Obama be re-elected -- and, it should be noted, Mitt Romney received only a negligible bump in the polls from Ryan's addition to the ticket -- the House's status quo would remain. Ryan isn't going anywhere: He will appear both on the national ticket and on the congressional ballot, thanks to a 1968 law that permits candidates to run for two offices simultaneously if one of those offices is president or vice president.
McCarthy's political future looks bright even if Obama wins and Ryan stays in Congress. That's because Ryan's name shoots straight to the top of list of 2016 GOP presidential contenders. Politicians elevated to that role operate a shadow government of sorts: They have the media's ear when it comes to criticism of the administration. As a fellow Gun, McCarthy's take on the actions of a re-elected Obama would carry comparable weight.
Might McCarthy merit a shot at the No. 2 slot on a Ryan-led ticket four years hence? Maybe, but I doubt it. McCarthy isn't going to help anyone carry solidly blue California, and the two of them may be too close in ideology to appeal to a sufficiently wide voter base. But McCarthy stands to benefit in less tangible ways.
In any case, congressional Republicans will have to manage things better than they have. The House's current state of dysfunction is reminiscent of the fallout from the previous GOP takeover. In 1994, in the midst of Bill Clinton's first term, the "Contract with America" put control of Congress in Republican hands. The Republicans spent the next two years trying to make Clinton a one-term president. When Clinton won re-election, the Republicans -- who still controlled Congress -- tried to drag their feet on Democratic initiatives. They managed (narrowly) to get a Republican elected president, but lost control of Congress.
One hopes they'll learn from history and start working in a bipartisan manner for the country as a whole rather than just their party. But one is too realistic to expect that much.
Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at email@example.com.