No one was surprised when early voter numbers on Election Night showed Bakersfield incumbent Congressman Kevin McCarthy outpacing challenger Tatiana Matta by nearly 2-1 in the race for the 23rd Congressional District.
After all, McCarthy never received less than 68.8 percent of the vote in any prior general election he's competed in.
But the apparent win for McCarthy is something of a hollow victory. One of the 53-year-old congressman's primary responsibilities as House Majority Leader is to formulate a strategy to help Republicans maintain control of the House. And in that regard, McCarthy failed Tuesday as Democrats locked in control of the lower chamber, thereby blocking — at least for now — McCarthy's path to the position of Speaker of the House, the most prestigious role in that body.
With all precincts reporting, McCarthy garnered 66.5 percent of the vote Tuesday, compared to Matta's 33.5 percent.
Two messages left with McCarthy were not returned Tuesday.
Matta, reached Tuesday night as she watched returns with other Democratic candidates at the Kern Inyo & Mono Labor Council headquarters in Bakersfield, said she wasn't ready to throw in the towel.
"The night is still young," said Matta, who lives on Edwards Air Force Base. "We're still waiting for the polls to catch up."
But she also clearly understood that she had a steep hill to climb. Should McCarthy win, she said, she hopes he will refocus his energies on representing the people in his district rather than concentrating on his political responsibilities as part of the Republican leadership.
"It's really about helping the people in the community, making their lives better," she said. "That was my campaign."
McCarthy was not in Bakersfield Tuesday as he usually is on Election Day. He flew from Bakersfield to Washington D.C., his spokesman Matt Sparks said, "to help candidates and the overall effort to hold the House majority."
McCarthy was not in Bakersfield for the 2012 election either, Sparks said.
Meanwhile, McCarthy went to bed Tuesday night (or Wednesday morning) knowing Democrats flipped Congress, depriving Bakersfield's hometown guy the chance to succeed Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as Speaker.
Regardless, it's likely that the next House speaker will call California home. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is heavily favored to win re-election.