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Meet Chairman McCarthy

Party convention platforms aren't the most exciting or memorable documents, so don't expect this year's manifestos from Republicans and Democrats to make the bestseller lists. But they do provide a useful forum for each party to hash out its internal policy debates, a tall order for Republicans in 2008 given that their nominee, John McCain, has squabbled with members of his own party on a whole host of issues.

The man in charge of this year's GOP effort is Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a 43-year-old freshman lawmaker from Bakersfield, Calif. who was somewhat surprisingly chosen to be chairman of the Republican Platform Committee by House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) back in May.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). (The Associated Press)

McCarthy freely admitted to Capitol Briefing during an interview last week that he's never done anything quite like this before; his only role at past GOP conventions has been as a delegate from California. But he's eager to tackle the job, and has already begun collecting suggestions and input from fellow Republicans on the Hill and around the country. And he's created a Web site where anyone can make suggestions for what they think the platform should include.

"What I thought about is, what's the best way to gather information?" McCarthy said. "In today's world, I figured it made sense to be able to do it 24/7."

Beyond that online effort, McCarthy will craft the platform with the help of the co-chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), and the full platform committee, which includes two representatives apiece from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. Closer to home, McCarthy has already held one listening session last week at the RNC's Capitol Hill headquarters to get feedback from his fellow members of Congress, and he'll have another such gathering this week.

All the feedback in the world won't change the fact that Republicans (and Democrats) have plenty of internal disagreements over issues big and small, from abortion and health care to climate change and immigration. McCarthy said he aimed to make the 2008 platform "shorter, more principled and forward-looking," and that he expected the final product to be broadly popular within the party, if not unanimously so.

"I think the vast majority of Republicans will like the outcome," he said. "That's my goal."

How did McCarthy get here? Though he's relatively young and a freshman in the House, McCarthy is no political neophyte. He is a protégé of ex-Rep. Bill Thomas, the former Ways and Means Committee chairman and a powerful force within the California Republican Party. Having previously served as chairman of the Young Republican National Federation, McCarthy worked as a district aide to Thomas until being elected to the state Assembly in 2002. During his first term in office, McCarthy was elected as the Assembly Minority Leader, the first freshman ever to hold that post.

When Thomas decided to retire from Congress in 2006, McCarthy was easily elected to succeed his former boss in the 22nd district, which covers the southern San Joaquin Valley. McCarthy was immediately chosen by his fellow first-term Republicans to serve as the freshman class representative on the GOP Steering Committee, a post that often leads to choice committee assignments and eventual roles in the party leadership.

Given that background, McCarthy has been pegged for the leadership track since his arrival on the Hill last January. He is thought by his colleagues to be interested in running for chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, perhaps as soon as the 111th Congress, particularly since current Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) has earned tepid reviews so far and the field to replace him remains fluid. McCarthy could even aim for another post, as it appears increasingly likely that the entire slate of GOP leaders could face challenges after November.

As is customary for leadership hopefuls (the smart ones, at least), McCarthy professes zero interest in any higher office and discounts any rumors to the contrary.

"It's crazy stuff," he said. "I don't look at any of that. People who talk about races in the future aren't thinking about today."

By Ben Pershing  |  July 21, 2008; 3:54 PM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign , GOP Leaders  
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