For Congressman David Valadao, R-Hanford and Fresno community development leader TJ Cox, a Democrat, the June 5 primary is a dress rehearsal for November.
They are the only two candidates in the race for the 21st Congressional District.
So both will advance to the general election.
But June’s balloting should help answer an important question.
Does Cox even have a shot at Valadao?
The 21st District was drawn in 2011 specifically to elect a Latino Democrat and Democrats hold a 17 point registration advantage there.
But Valadao won the district handily in 2012 and has held it ever since, defeating three Latino opponents handily.
Cal State Bakersfield Political Science Professor Kent Price said perhaps Cox’s candidacy can break that pattern.
“Maybe it’s better that there isn’t a Hispanic candidate. There (have) been three Hispanic candidates that have all failed,” he said.
He points back to Rep. Jim Costa who held the area covered by the 21st District before the 2011 redistricting.
“You need someone who is more like Costa and Valadao to win,” Price said.
The big question, he said, is whether there will be enough outrage with Trump, ICE raids and resonance between Kern County’s dynamic 4th District Supervisors race to make Valadao vulnerable.
“You see these other races nationally and the Democrats are getting close in places they shouldn’t get close in,” Price said. “I don’t know if it its enough. But it will be interesting.”
What is clear is that Valadao is winning the money race.
Between Jan. 1, 2017, and the end of March Valadao raised nearly $1.8 million and has around $1.3 million in his campaign account.
But Cox is showing a robust fundraising campaign, a bonus Democrats running in the 21st District haven’t always been able to claim.
Cox had brought in around $625,064 for his race by March 31 — $257,500 of which was a loan to the campaign from his personal funds.
He had $416,396 of that money left as of the end of March.
The focus of Cox’s campaign is connecting Valadao to the partisan Republican agenda of the Washington D.C. GOP party.
“I think people know that there is something seriously wrong with this administration and this complicit Congress,” Cox said.
Valadao voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he said.
Cox’s community development group, on the other hand, is building health clinics in the 21st District.
He took a swipe at Valadao’s immigration record.
Valadao has consistently pushed for support for Dreamers through the DACA program and gone against his party to push for immigration reform and a path to citizenship.
But those efforts have produced no progress in Republican-controlled Washington.
Cox tied Valadao to the aggressive stance of federal immigration agents.
“ICE is terrorizing our communities and damaging businesses and this guy says, ‘I’m monitoring the situation,’” Cox said.
Valadao has taken a swing, by press release, at Cox for being disconnected from the 21st District.
He doesn’t live in the district and none of his campaign donations come from there, the press release stated.
Cox counters that the majority of the work his community development company does is in the 21st District.
And he has plenty of money coming from the 21st District, he said. It is just coming from real people in amounts that are smaller that the $250 reporting limit, Cox said.
“The majority of his money comes from corporate interests,” he said of Valadao.
Cox said he’s already traveled extensively across the district and he hears repeatedly that voters are tried of the status quo and want a change.
He acknowledges that he has a tough road to climb to truly challenge Valadao.
But Cox said he doesn’t see much difference between the needs of the various farflung parts of the 21st District which runs from Arvin and Lamont north around Bakersfield and through Kings and Tulare counties all the way to rural Fresno County.
“The sense I get is the health care needs in Kern are the same as the health care needs in Fresno,” he said. “The Central Valley is the Central Valley.”
Multiple phone calls to interview Valadao for this article were not returned.
TJ Cox did not fill out a questionnaire.
Neither candidate was available for video interviews.