Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader from Bakersfield, took a turn at the podium Tuesday in Cleveland, addressing the Republican National Convention as an unabashed supporter of the newly minted nominee, Donald J. Trump. David Valadao, McCarthy’s congressional neighbor to the immediate north, did not.
In fact, Valadao, R-Hanford, wasn’t even in Cleveland, despite the fact that, as a congressman, he probably could have scored a pretty good seat.
So, where was the Kings County farmer? Busy. Elsewhere.
That was more or less Valadao’s explanation Wednesday during an appearance on “First Look with Scott Cox,” The Californian’s web-radio simulcast with KERN-AM and bakersfield.com.
Valadao said his opinion of Trump has nothing to do with his decision not to attend the event.
“I’m not a fan, but he is the nominee and it is what it is. My focus has to be on my race and what I’m doing here in the valley,” Valadao told “First Look” hosts Scott Cox and Michael Hopper. “As far as not being at the convention, it has nothing to do with that. I’m just not there.”
Questions about Valadao’s support for the distinctly coiffed businessman from New York came to the fore after Valadao’s campaign issued a written statement announcing that the congressman would be distancing himself from the then-presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Valadao said the press hyped up that announcement but he didn’t back away from earlier statements distancing himself from Trump.
"I am disappointed with the divisive rhetoric coming from this Presidential Election and cannot support either candidate (Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton),” Valadao said in a June statement. “I cannot back a candidate who denigrates people based on their ethnicity, religion, or disabilities. I stand ready to work with our next president, regardless of who the American people elect, on critical issues impacting families in my district by working to bring water and jobs to the Valley.”
Valadao will face Emilio Huerta, the son of labor-icon Dolores Huerta, in the November general election for the 21st Congressional District, a heavily Latino District where Democrats enjoy a 15 percent voter registration advantage over Republicans. Valadao has been able to win that seat twice because of dramatically low turnout by Latino and Democratic voters, but Trump’s polarizing stance on immigration, his promises to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and to deport millions of illegal immigrants could potentially make things much more difficult this time.
Valadao didn’t directly address any of those concerns Tuesday, however. He said family obligations, frequent travel and the cost of attending were the reasons he skipped Cleveland. That, and the hour-long commute from the hotel to the convention location.
“Frankly, it cost money. And I’m pretty cheap with what we do with our campaign money,” the congressman said, laughing.
But he did say he needed to pay attention to Kern and Kings counties.
“I’ve never been to one (national convention) and I’d like to be at one someday, but I’ve got to focus on the district,” he said.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is dedicated to electing Democrats to Congress, had been sending out press release after press release trying to tie vulnerable Republicans like Valadao to the New York businessman turned politician.
The Californian’s James Burger contributed to this story.