WASHINGTON – Spurned by his party once before in his bid to lead the US House of Representatives, Mr Kevin McCarthy is on a path to grasping the Speaker’s gavel – and becoming second in line to the presidency.

He has won a leadership vote that was a symbolic loyalty test among Republicans, but it solidifies Mr McCarthy, 57, as the frontrunner when the Speaker of the House of Representatives is elected on the first day of the new Congress in January.

And Mr McCarthy got more good news as expected on Wednesday as his party clinched control of the House with at least 218 of its 435 seats. With some races still undecided, the final cushion will still be much thinner than party leaders had expected from last week’s midterm elections.

“Republicans have officially flipped the People’s House!” Mr McCarthy posted on Twitter after TV networks called the House race for his party. This means Congress will be split, as Democrats retained the Senate.

“Americans are ready for a new direction, and House Republicans are ready to deliver,” he continued.

Mr McCarthy has led the Republican caucus in the lower house since 2014 and has strived to replace Democrat Nancy Pelosi as Speaker, who is next in the line of succession after the vice president.

Mr McCarthy – who represents the conservative enclave of Bakersfield in liberal California – has been in politics for most of his adult life, as a state legislator and US lawmaker in Washington.

He does not have any major legislative achievements to his name and has never chaired a House committee, unlike each of the last three speakers. But he is a consummate networker, admired for his prolific fundraising and his people management – meeting his members’ demands when he can and assuaging their concerns when he cannot.

“I actually think that he is a bit underestimated,” said Mr Brendan Buck, a former McCarthy staffer and an aide to the last two Republican speakers. “There is this narrative surrounding him that he has always been the sidekick and maybe someone who is not up to the job of being a speaker. But I think that generally misunderstands what the role of the speaker is.”

With a Democratic White House, Republicans see it as a relatively straightforward task: object to every policy proposal by President Joe Biden and dog his administration with investigations.

Mr McCarthy has had a handful of run-ins with far-right figures in his party, whom he is accused of failing to rein in, and one of them, Arizona congressman Andy Biggs, said he will challenge Mr McCarthy and that “his speakership should not be a foregone conclusion”.

The son of a firefighter and grandson of a cattle rancher, Mr McCarthy grew up in a working-class household. He married his high school sweetheart and the couple still live in the first house they bought, where they raised two children.

After four years in the California Assembly, Mr McCarthy entered the US House of Representatives in 2007, steadily working his way up and becoming a minority leader in 2019.

He ran for speaker in 2015 but dropped out amid a right-wing backlash to perhaps the biggest blunder of his career, over the deadly 2012 Benghazi attack.

Support dropped away after he said the panel investigating the Islamist assault on US facilities in the Libyan city was actually created to hurt Mrs Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

But Mr McCarthy’s most controversial moments tend to be when he is called out for a lack of candour rather than an overabundance. In one particularly embarrassing example, The New York Times reported that he informed colleagues that he was going to advise Mr Donald Trump to resign over his role in the 2021 Capitol insurrection.

Mr McCarthy denied making the comments – until the Times reporters released a tape.

He has also raised eyebrows over recent comments on his party’s plans for 2023, which he has suggested might include reining in aid to help Ukraine in its war with Russia. AFP