Buy Photo


Robert Price is The Californian's editorial page editor. Email him at

Congressional Republicans' dislike of Obamacare is very real, but the quest to defund and effectively kill the Affordable Care Act may not be the main reason so many of them refuse to budge on the current government shutdown, even in the face of a faltering strategy that lacks a coherent endgame.

Those from strongly conservative districts know that somebody back home will launch an intra-party challenge if voters detect the slightest sliver of light between their Congressperson's actions and the stalwart idealogical purity they thought they were sending to Washington.

So, given a choice between authorizing payment of the nation's bills and reassuring constituents they still hate President Obama's health care law, Republicans -- especially of tea party ilk -- are choosing the latter.

But some House Republicans are walking a more traditional line: They're trying to fend off a Democratic challenger in a district that go could either way. In California, that guy is David Valadao, a one-term state assemblyman from Kings County who practically waltzed into Congress after redrawn political maps essentially created a new 21st Congressional District in his backyard -- and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee showed no interest in supporting the race's Democratic candidate, who'd defeated the party favorite in the primary.

Democrats hold a 15-point registration advantage in the district, however, making Valadao a target -- and a vulnerable one if the Democrats put up, and fund, a credible candidate. And now they have: Tulare County native Amanda Renteria, a Stanford grad, former intercollegiate athlete, Harvard Business School alum and veteran U.S. Senate staffer.

Valadao has long known someone with money and cred would show up, and he's been carving out a moderate voting record in preparation. Most notable is Valadao's support for immigration reform. When Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced a poison-pill amendment to the immigration bill last summer, every Republican on the Homeland Security Subcommittee supported it. Everyone except Valadao.

That ought to play pretty well in the 21st District, which is 70 percent Hispanic and, like the rest of the valley, is suffering from a lack of farmworkers.

Valadao was also one of only 15 Republicans who voted against proposed cuts to food stamps. You'd like to think he did so because his is one of the poorest districts in the country.

But Valadao has sent mixed signals on the government shutdown, and the DCCC, which follows him around like a caddy with a bad attitude, has noticed. The party's campaign committee fires off email dispatches almost daily that refer to the stalemate in Washington as "Valadao's shutdown." Just last week a DCCC bulletin announced that "For the first time in 17 years, Congressman David Valadao just shut down the government." I'm not sure what Valadao was doing to shut down the government 17 years ago, but if he actually wields coup-fomenting powers, as the DCCC seems to suggest, Renteria had better watch out.

It seems Valadao has done all sorts of nasty things since he's been in office, including kicking 57,000 kids out of the Head Start program nationwide (by virtue of his vote for the sequester back in March). Judging by all of this, Valadao is the most influential man in Congress; we can only hope the attention doesn't go to his head.

But Renteria ought to feel pretty special too. The national party will almost surely line up in her corner, and with some polls suggesting House Republicans could pay a political price in 2014 over their shutdown strategy (among other grievances), she could be participating in a coup of sorts herself next year. In any case, look for this race to produce some heat.

Email Robert Price at Twitter: @stubblebuzz