McCarthy’s speech comes as California Republicans could be poised to play an important role in the March 2024 primary, which is early enough in the year that the state’s large delegate pool could influence a potential race between former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The speaker avoided presidential politics in his speech at a downtown hotel, though he did take cracks at Rep. Adam Schiff, who is running to replace retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Gov. Gavin Newsom for his support of a high-speed rail system planned to eventually cut through the state’s Central Valley.
“The only thing I think Gavin spends more time on than high speed rail is spending time on his hair,” McCarthy said.
The speaker, who is from the Central Valley city of Bakersfield, is in familiar territory in Sacramento, where he served in the Assembly as the Republican leader before he was elected to Congress. His influence is welcome to a party that has fallen on hard times in California.
“He may be the highest-ranking Republican in the nation,” said California Republican Party Chair Jessica Millan Patterson, who was picked for the job by McCarthy in 2019. “But as a California Republican, he will always be one of us.”
While the speaker and Patterson avoided talk of the presidential race, it was clearly on the minds of many at the weekend convention.
Trump was by far the dominant name at the convention, with vendors hawking bedazzled “Let’s Go Brandon” hats, MAGA flags and rhinestone-encrusted purses shaped like stilettos and guns emblazoned with “Trump.” But many spoke fondly of DeSantis.
“I know what I get with Trump,” said Susan Walsh, a delegate from Nevada County who was attending the convention with her dog, a Portuguese podengo named Trump. “I want DeSantis to stay [in Florida], just in case I need to flee.”
Marty Miller, a resident of nearby Lincoln, Calif., was the only vendor offering DeSantis merchandise on Friday, including a blue “DeSantisland” t-shirt written in Disney font.
A native of Florida, Miller said California Republicans are open to DeSantis, but many are waiting to see what Trump does.
“They like Trump,” he said. “But he’s got to keep his mouth shut.”