Although the 2022 general election is 19 months away, the battle for one of the least secure seats in Congress has already begun.
CA-21, now represented by David Valadao, R-Hanford, has flipped between the control of the Republicans and Democrats over the last six years. With an important midterm election coming up that could determine the extent to which President Joe Biden can accomplish his agenda, both parties see the district as key to maintaining or taking over control.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently named the district as one of four priority districts in California, indicating a desire to take back what was lost with Rep. TJ Cox’s defeat in 2020. With a majority of voters in the 21st District going for Biden, the Democrats see Valadao’s seat as being especially vulnerable.
“We obviously would like to pick up seats,” Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, said, referencing CA-21 and three other Republican-controlled districts in California the Democrats view as vulnerable. “I think those are all seats that we could very well pick back up again.”
Valadao’s camp is going into the next election expecting a tough battle. They say voters respect Valadao’s independence and willingness to stand up to his party as a key advantage in the race.
“The Central Valley is sort of a quintessential swing area,” said Robert Jones, a general consultant for the Valadao campaign. “It’s almost guaranteed that every election is going to be close. We always run and prepare with the anticipation that we’re going to have a competitive election.”
Valadao was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump for “incitement of insurrection” in January. The congressman called his decision a vote of conscience after careful consideration.
Yet the vote has cast a pall over his reelection bid. A Republican, businessman and former Fresno City Councilman Chris Mathys, has stepped up to try to replace Valadao in the upcoming Republican primary. On his campaign website, Mathys called Valdao’s vote “unbelievable” and said he would do everything he could to “restore our conservative values.”
On the Democrat side, former State Assemblywoman Nicole Parra has announced her bid to take the seat.
With a history as a crossover candidate, she has the potential to spoil the party for Republicans.
“She literally does have a small base of Republicans who support her, and who will support her again, and this is what should worry Valadao,” said Mark Martinez, a professor of political science at Cal State Bakersfield. “It’s going to be fun to watch.”
Faced with a choice, the Democrats are hoping Republican voters will remember Valadao’s impeachment vote.
“I think David is going to run into some challenges because former President Trump has vowed to exact revenge against the 10 people who voted to impeach him,” Bera said. “President Trump still has a firm grip over the Republican Party and that will likely not play well in a primary.”
But the issue may be long forgotten by the time 2022 rolls around. And Valadao’s campaign is hoping voters have a lot more to think about when they turn in their ballots.
“No one vote or one action is going to define an election,” Jones said. “There’s a long time between now and the General Election, and there will be many things on which voters evaluate him.”
He added that the campaign felt strongly that Valadao’s “strong standing” in the Central Valley would help carry the day.
The district itself may even look slightly different in 2022. With the completion of the Census, district lines will soon be redrawn. In such a close race, those boundaries could be the difference between Democratic or Republican victory.
“It’s going to be an interesting race, especially with California losing a seat,” Martinez said, referencing changes to state populations that will result in California losing one congressional representative. ”Everybody is waiting for the maps. Once the maps come out, everybody is going to have a pretty good idea of which way we should be leaning.”