Congressman David Valadao, R-Hanford, jumped out to an overwhelming lead over Democratic challenger Emilio Huerta Tuesday evening.
Valadao is almost certain to win re-election to a third term.
As of Wednesday morning, Valadao had 58.6 percent of the vote to Huerta’s 41.4 percent. That was 48,308 to 34,171 votes.
Valadao claimed victory and said he was already turning his mind to what he might be able to accomplish in Washington with a Republican president in the White House.
“Water has to be our top priority,” he said.
Valadao has been pushing for legislation to bring more water to the Central Valley and said President Trump might be able to help him pressure California’s Democratic senators to finally support that legislation.
He also said a Republican House, Senate and White House could do a lot to pressure federal agencies like the BLM to ease regulation on Central Valley energy companies and air quality standards.
It could help with, he said, “making sure we have some common-sense regulation.”
Huerta, however, was not ready to concede defeat Tuesday night.
Democrats hold a 17.4-point registration advantage over Republicans in the district and poll voters, provisional voters and late vote-by-mail voters tend to swing heavily toward Democrats as thousands of ballots are counted in the days and weeks after Election Day.
Huerta is hoping that surge will be enough to give him the win.
“I think it is still too early to call the race. I think there are a lot of ballots that are uncounted,” Huerta said. “We’re prepared to wait and see.”
He said his campaign focused on getting into the small communities of the rural 21st District and making inroads with voters who other candidates ignore.
But, he said, there was a bigger concern on his mind.
“I think I’m more nervous about the (future of the) country than I am this race,” he said.
Twice before a strong election night lead of around 60 percent has been enough for an eventual Valadao win.
In June, during the primary election, Valadao started election night with 60.7 percent of the early vote. He ended up with 54 percent of the vote.
That’s a dramatic swing, but it wasn’t enough to erase Valadao’s majority share of the vote.
And it’s unlikely this time will be any different.
The 2010 election in the old 20th Congressional District could provide some insight. The 21st District resembles the old 20th.
In 2010, Democratic Congressman Jim Costa flipped the 52.9 percent lead his Republican opponent, Andy Vidak, held on election night into a 51.8 percent victory three weeks later.
A similar swing in this election wouldn’t be enough to save Huerta.
There is a lot of uncertainty in this election cycle, though.
It’s a presidential year, which increases turnout and — in the 21st — can help a well-funded, aggressive Democrat. And Donald Trump could have driven more Democrats to the polls.
But Huerta, the son of social justice icon Dolores Huerta, jumped into the race late and only narrowly defeated fellow Democrat Daniel Parra in a rancorous June primary. In the general election he faded into the background, retooled his campaign with new leadership, and started working a grassroots operation.
Huerta raised some funds, but nothing like the $1 million-plus war chest Valadao was able to build.
Then, in October, the Democratic House Majority PAC dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent expenditures into the 21st District to attack Valadao, including tying him to Trump.
Valadao fired back with an escalating slate of television attack ads and got some help from national Republicans as well.
The race has drawn national attention, as this territory historically does, because Valadao flipped the traditionally Democratic turf to the GOP column in 2012. Democrats have been trying to win the seat back ever since.
The 21st District runs from east Bakersfield to Arvin and Lamont and then skirts urban Bakersfield and Taft to pick up rural, Latino communities like Wasco, McFarland and Delano.
Then it picks up all of Kings County, small communities in southwestern Tulare County, and the majority of rural western Fresno County.