The razor-thin, last-to-be-settled congressional race that ousted two-term Republican incumbent David Valadao last year is headed for a rematch.
Democrat TJ Cox, six months into his first term as California's 21st District representative, will be getting a familiar foe in 2020.
At least that's what Valadao told me Tuesday, though he did not quite emphatically declare, "I'm running."
"We're not making any announcements yet," Valadao said. "We're looking at it but we're not ready. We have been making calls, talking to people."
Valadao said he will take some family time before making it official, but I expect we'll get a formal announcement sometime early next month.
Cox's office referred my request for comment to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The response of DCCC spokesman Andy Orellana:
“In 2018, the the Central Valley kicked out a career politician who voted to take away protections for 92,000 of his own constituents with preexisting conditions. Working families sent Valadao packing because they won’t tolerate a DC insider who will prioritize Washington special interests over combating the rise in prescription drug cost, investing in needed infrastructure and bringing clean drinking water to all corners of the Central Valley.
"Apparently ... Valadao didn’t get the message ...”
Valadao was running 13 percentage points ahead of Cox at one point last Election Day, but it tightened as the night wore on and by morning the race was too close to call. Elections officials kept counting for a week, days after virtually every other congressional race in the nation had been decided and it was abundantly clear that the Democrats had taken back the House.
When the counting was declared finished, Cox was up by a scant 862 votes, making the 21st the last of seven House seats in California to flip Republican to Democrat.
The Republican National Congressional Committee has been coming after Cox hard in the past few months, portraying him just last week, for example, as a "rabid socialist extremist" who has brought "radicalism" into the House.
Valadao appeared at an event last week with Vice President Mike Pence, a pairing that can only mean he's the guy Republicans will be trotting out in 2020.
Perhaps in the interim Pence can learn how to pronounce the name of his "great friend," as he called the Hanford dairyman on July 10. Pence, according to David Taub of GV Wire, pronounced it “vuh-LAD-ee-oh” rather than “val-uh-DAY-oh.”
As Taub also noted, the Cook Political Report categorizes Cox's seat as vulnerable; Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball calls it a Dem-leaning toss-up.
By all rights, the seat should be Democrat-held. Democrats hold a 42.8 percent to 26.7 percent registration advantage over Republicans, and the district favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 15.5 points in 2016. Valadao wisely kept his rhetorical distance from Trump in 2018, given the president's stance on border security, sanctuary cities, DACA and other immigration issues, but that didn't stop Cox from portraying the men as kindred spirits.
It may have had the desired effect, because Binder Research found that support for Cox among Latinos increased from 56 percent in early August to 70 percent the week of the election. Valadao's Latino support remained flat, 28 percent to 29 percent.
Trump is doing Valadao even fewer favors now than he was before, with Tuesday's House vote on a resolution condemning the president for what critics called a racist tweet coming hard on the heels of continuing reports about border camp overcrowding.
Valadao, who had decisively won in the 21st twice previously, may not have the advantage of incumbency any more, but he does still have name recognition, and, to the extent it could be a factor, a name that sounds more Latino (he is Portuguese by ancestry) than Cox (who is Chinese-Filipino) — an undeniable factor in the heavily Latino district.
Valadao will want to get the fundraising ball rolling, and fast. On Tuesday, Cox announced that his campaign raised $402,000 in the second quarter from some 2,000 contributors.