California's highest-ranking House Republican has a message for fellow members of the GOP still reeling from November losses: "We can only go up."
"The most important thing that the Republican Party has is I don't believe we can get any lower," Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority whip, said during an appearance at the Sacramento Press Club on Friday.
The former Assembly GOP leader's remarks came as Republicans from across the state flocked to Sacramento for the party's spring convention this weekend. It's the first official gathering of GOP officials, delegates and activists since the state party suffered yet another drubbing at the ballot box last year.
Republicans, who currently hold no statewide office in the Golden State, lost key legislative and congressional races and the party's share of the electorate dropped below 30 percent for the first time.
McCarthy said the November outcomes were practically inevitable given the strength and organization of the Democrats' campaign at the top of the ticket. President Barack Obama beat GOP nominee Mitt Romney by 23 points in California, boosting Democratic votes down the ballot.
"I don't think in this presidential year we were going to be able to do much of anything," McCarthy said.
McCarthy said the Obama campaign team's focus on data mining and voter targeting was a "wake-up call" that California Republicans should try to emulate in 2014 and beyond.
"They didn't go to the same old politicos to tell them how to run, tell me how many points they were going to put on TV and think they were going to win," he said. "They didn't go with the same old messages and think, 'Oh, this will drive people out.' "
McCarthy said the party's other challenge will be to persuade voters that the GOP cares about them, "regardless of who they are." He said Republicans shouldn't be afraid to "embrace a little bit of our libertarianism" when it comes to communicating on various issues.
"There's things government shouldn't be involved in," he said. "Why are you afraid to answer that?"
Democrats' grip on Sacramento could actually help Republicans make gains in 2014, he said, especially if the governor and legislative supermajorities overreach and the pendulum swings back in the GOP's direction.
"It's all about timing in politics, so if we build now, we'll be prepared when it comes, in the off presidential year," he said. "But we have to invest in the infrastructure, we have to broaden our party and we have to have a message that reaches individuals that care about their issues."
On immigration, McCarthy said he sees several areas where lawmakers can come to an agreement, including visas for high-skilled labor, how to deal with undocumented children who came to the country at a young age and a pathway to a legal status.
At the end of a Q-and-A session, attention turned to a topic that has had politicos in the Beltway and beyond buzzing for weeks: "House of Cards."
The Netflix series, which centers on the often unseemly political and personal dealings of a power-hungry fictional U.S. representative named Francis Underwood, has become a must-watch program among political junkies.
McCarthy, who like the show's lead character serves as House majority whip, recalled meeting with actor Kevin Spacey, who plays Underwood, before the series began.
"He keeps calling my office and wants to know if I'll sit down with him. I'm saying 'no' because I know it's not going to turn out well for me, right?" he said. "Well, then they tell me he's going to play a Democrat. I said, 'Sure, come on in!' "
The Bakersfield Republican said he tried to dispel Spacey's assumptions about power and punishment in Washington, before sharing what he tells members as he's scouting out support for a bill ahead of a floor vote: "Vote your conscience, vote your district. Just don't surprise me."
Before the meeting ended, the two took a picture in front of a framed whip that is on display in McCarthy's Capitol Hill office.
When the series began, McCarthy started to see and hear some familiar things.
"I start watching this show and after the first couple of shows, his office starts to look like my office. There's this map, right, sitting there. I look over on the wall, he's got that whip sitting there. Then, in the ninth episode, he has these two members in and he's trying to pass this bill and he says 'This is where you guys are, this is where you are, this is where the conference is and I'm going to tell you one thing, you vote your district, you vote your conscience. Just don't surprise me.' "
That, McCarthy said, is where the parallels to actual politics on Capitol Hill stop. He said, however, that while "there's certain parts of it I'm not a fan of," perhaps a reference to the fictional whip's often less-than-ethical actions, he finds the show interesting.
"This one is made professionally about Washington, but it's not Washington," he said. "Don't believe what you see in there, but it's intriguing."