A rematch seemed inevitable after November 2018's tight election for California's 21st Congressional District seat.
When all the ballots were counted, fewer than 900 votes — three-quarters of 1 percent — separated the Republican incumbent, Hanford farmer David Valadao, from his Democratic challenger from Fresno, businessman T.J. Cox.
There's a chance this year's race could be complicated by the candidacies of a father-son combination running under different party affiliations.
But barring the unexpected, it's looking like Cox and Valadao will get their rematch, not only in the March 3 primary but also in the Nov. 3 general election.
"Everything I've seen so far tells me that it will" be a rematch, Valadao said, adding that anything could happen.
Clayton Campbell said he thinks so, too. The executive committee member of the Kern County Republican Central Committee said the other two candidates, San Diego businessman Roque "Rocky" De La Fuente and his son, executive Ricardo, could have some impact but that "I don't think that's going to be a significant factor."
Under California's "jungle primary" system, the top two vote-getters in the primary will face off in November.
Although Republicans have done well in the 21st District, its party registration favors Democrats, who enjoy a 43 percent advantage as compared with Republicans' 27 percent.
Cox's campaign staff emailed a statement that said the following:
“Representative Cox’s work and message are resonating throughout the Central Valley. T.J.'s Family Farmer Relief Act has been signed into law by the president, he just voted to protect health care access, and he’s got three bills to bring water to the Valley moving through the House.
"Between this strong record and our incredible grassroots support, we’re focused on delivering for working families, all without taking a dime of corporate PAC money. That’s what we’ll need to be successful in November.”
Valadao said his focus is on getting out his message, making phone calls, walking precincts and reaching out to voters.
Convinced that Democratic turnout will be high, he said it will be important to persuade as many supporters as possible to get their ballot in.
"We've got to find ways to get people interested," he said.
He repeated allegations, raised by other Republicans as well, that Democrats "harvested ballots" in the November 2018 election by gathering up and turning in the mail-in ballots that turned the tide in Cox's favor.
"It's something that we're going to have to find a way to do ourselves," he said.
Valadao, who preceded Cox in the 21st District seat, emphasized his work on bipartisan issues when he served in the House.
He called attention to his work on bringing additional surface supplies of water to Central Valley farmers and his efforts to reach consensus on immigration, which ultimately were unsuccessful.
"I led on immigration nationally and had a lot of support from both sides of the aisle," he said.
Ricardo De La Fuente, who is running as a Democrat, did not respond to a request for comment.
His father, Roque, is running for president — as a Republican in some states, as an American Independent in others — in addition to his 21st District candidacy.
Roque has had a colorful political history, even though he has never won an election. In 2018, he ran for a U.S. Senate seat in nine states and has run for president as a Democrat and, separately, as a Reform Party candidate.
He said his multiparty affiliation makes sense in light of his history, adding, "I have supported Democrats and Republicans all my life."
The 21st District's top issues, he asserted, are immigration and water.
"Without water, nothing survives. That’s the No. 1 issue," he said.
The 21st District stretches across portions of Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties. It includes Coalinga, Delano, Hanford and parts of Bakersfield.