Assemblymember Vince Fong, who once worked as McCarthy’s district director and was immediately endorsed by his former boss, is well-positioned as a front-runner. | Rich Pedroncelli/AP

LOS ANGELES — California Assemblymember Vince Fong’s congressional hopes remain alive after a judge ruled Thursday he could proceed as a candidate to replace Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

The ruling by Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang caps off a chaotic start in the race to succeed the former House speaker, who is retiring at the end of the month.

The decision rejects the argument by California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, whose office said Fong’s candidacy violated state election code. Chang said such statute “is inapplicable to Fong and cannot be used as a reason to preclude him” from the primary ballot.

Fong issued a celebratory statement soon after the ruling was handed down.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the voters of the 20th Congressional District, who will now have the opportunity to select the candidate of their choice in the March 5th election,” he said. “I am grateful that Judge Chang upheld the integrity of our elections and sided with Central Valley voters against an overreaching Sacramento politician.”

At issue was whether Fong could remain on the ballot as a congressional candidate, even though he had already filed for reelection for his Assembly seat after opting not to seek McCarthy’s seat. Fong changed his mind after state Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), who was widely seen as a strong potential contender, surprised the Central Valley by declining to run.

By that point, the deadline to withdraw from the ballot as an Assembly candidate had passed. Fong filed for a congressional run anyway, which Weber said violated state law against appearing on the same ballot twice for different positions. After Weber said Fong would not appear on the list of certified candidates for the 20th congressional district, Fong sued to stay on the ballot.

Thursday’s hearing delved into arcane interpretations of state election law, with Fong’s lawyers arguing that state law did not explicitly prohibit a politician from serving in both Congress and the state legislature.

The judge’s ruling, while favorable to Fong, contained a distinct note of concern about his candidacy. Change wrote the outcome of her decision “may result in voter confusion and the disenfranchisement of voters if Fong is ultimately elected for both offices but does not retain one. Moreover, it somewhat defies common sense to find the law permits a candidate to run for two offices during the same election.”

Chang issued her ruling minutes before the 5 p.m. deadline for the Secretary of State to produce a list of certified candidates for the district.

Fong, who once worked as McCarthy’s district director and was immediately endorsed by his former boss, is well-positioned as a front-runner, given his established profile in the district and access to the former speaker’s political network.

But the confusion over Fong’s eligibility prompted a number of other hopefuls to enter the race for the solidly Republican district. Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux and Kyle Kirkland, a wealthy Fresno casino-owner and philanthropist, are among those seeking the seat, as well as David Giglio, who entered the race months earlier as a far-right challenger to McCarthy.

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