Monday, June 24, 2024

Rep. David Valadao wins reelection in endangered Central Valley congressional seat

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Central Valley Republican Rep. David Valadao, whose vote to impeach President Trump nearly sank his campaign in the primary, will return to Congress next year after defeating Democratic state Assemblyman Rudy Salas.

The Associated Press called the race Monday, though official results will take longer. After control of the House tipped to Republicans last week, Valadao’s win and California’s two remaining congressional races are determining the size of the GOP’s majority.

“I am once again humbled by the Central Valley’s support and faith in me,” Valadao said in a statement Monday night. “I commend Rudy Salas for running a strong campaign and his service to our community in the state Assembly.”

Valadao also thanked campaign workers and volunteers and those still working to count ballots. “To the election workers in Kern, Kings and Tulare counties — I appreciate your hard work over the past couple of weeks to make sure every vote was counted fairly and accurately.”

The race for California’s 22nd Congressional District had long been considered a toss-up. Voters there had sided with Joe Biden over President Trump by 13 percentage points in 2020, making Valadao one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents in the country.

But Salas, 45, had to contend with the same headwinds as other Democrats in the country: high gas prices and concerns about crime, both of which were the focus of a barrage of attack ads against him.

Democrats had long tried to recruit Salas to run against Valadao. Before serving five terms in the Assembly, Salas was the first Latino to serve on the Bakersfield City Council. Salas’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment Monday night.

In the campaign, Salas emphasized his family lineage of farmworkers, including his childhood summers helping his father in the fields. Valadao also has agricultural bona fides, operating a small dairy farm. Both touted their work to shore up water resources in the district, a top concern in this rural area.

Valadao, who was first elected to Congress in 2012, has been a perpetual target for Democrats, who have held a sizable registration advantage in his district. A moderate Republican, Valadao had emphasized his support for immigration reform, breaking with his party. Still, Democrats successfully ousted him in the blue wave of 2018, only for Valadao to win the seat back in 2020.

He did not have much time to bask in the glow of his victory, however. The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — which he watched from his Hanford home as he quarantined with COVID-19 — led Valadao, 45, to be one of 10 House Republicans to vote for President Trump’s impeachment.

Backlash from the right was swift. Two Republicans jumped into the congressional race, citing Valadao’s impeachment vote as their primary motivator. But while Trump endorsed challengers to all other pro-impeachment Republicans who were seeking reelection, the former president was conspicuously silent in the lead-up to Valadao’s primary.

Trump stayed out of the race for California’s 22nd district at the urging of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who comes from neighboring Bakersfield. Given the Democratic tilt of the district, McCarthy convinced Trump that Valadao was the only Republican who could keep that seat. In the June primary, Valadao’s two challengers split the vote, enabling the congressman to narrowly advance to the general election.

Valadao’s struggles with the base were emblematic of the fallout for House Republicans who backed impeachment. Of the 10, four opted to retire rather than run again. Four others, including Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, lost in the primary to a Trump-backed opponent. Valadao and Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington are the only two who will continue to serve in the House.

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