Bakersfield Assemblymember Vince Fong said Monday he is entering the race to replace Rep. Kevin McCarthy in Congress, becoming the best-known Republican vying for the Central Valley seat in the House of Representatives.

When McCarthy announced last week that he planned to retire by the end of the year, Fong, 44, said he would not run for the seat in California’s 20th Congressional District. But on Monday morning, Fong said he had changed his mind.

“It is my strong belief that the Central Valley must continue to be represented by proven, conservative leaders in Congress,” Fong said. “In light of recent developments and in an attempt to unite our community in this critical moment in our nation’s history, I have decided to run for Congress in 2024.”

He added: “I have spent my career fighting for Central Valley families. I am eager and ready to take that fight to Washington and deliver meaningful results for our community.”

Fong, who was born and raised in Bakersfield, began his career working for McCarthy’s predecessor, then-Rep. Bill Thomas, then worked for nearly a decade as McCarthy’s district director. Fong was elected to the state Assembly in 2016.

It’s a path that mirrors that of McCarthy, who began his political career in Thomas’ office, then served four years in the state Assembly before running for Congress.

In Sacramento, Fong has largely focused on public safety, water and fiscal issues, generally eschewing culture wars that dominate some parts of the GOP. He carried bills attempting to pause a tax on gasoline that funds road repairs and direct money away from high speed rail, both of which were unsuccessful.

Fong has served as the vice chairman of the Assembly budget committee, a perch he has used to advocate for conservative fiscal policies even though Republicans have little power to influence decisions in the state Capitol.

Fong currently represents about 60% of the voters in California’s 20th Congressional District, his campaign said.

In Washington, Fong said he would aim to “defend the Central Valley’s water and energy resources,” focus on border security, and oppose “new taxes and the reckless spending that has fueled inflation and caused our cost of living to soar.”

Fong’s announcement came hours after California Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), seen as a front-runner for the seat, said she would not run.

In a statement late Sunday, Grove said “after prayerful consideration and thoughtful discussions” with her family, she had decided to finish serving her California Senate term, which ends in 2026.

“I will honor my commitment to those who elected me to the California state Senate, and I will continue to fight for the needs of Central Valley residents,” Grove said. “Our district feeds and fuels the nation, and I intend to continue fighting for those interests! As one of only 40 Senators in the state, there is still much work that lies before me.”

Candidates have until Wednesday to enter the race for McCarthy’s seat.

Times Sacramento bureau chief Laurel Rosenhall contributed to this report.

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