Tthe race to win California’s 22nd congressional district in the midterms has become one of the tightest House races in the country. The result is set to show whether Republicans who rebelled against Donald Trump can still have a seat in their party, whether Democrats can keep Latino voters on their side and how big of a majority the GOP can get in the House.
Although several polls and historical trends point to Republicans eventually gaining control of the House in the midterms, the size of that majority can vary, and California’s 22nd District is one of the few seats in the country with the potential to swing one way or the other. .
The Republican on the ticket, Congressman David Valadao, was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Trump in 2021. Most of the other nine lost primaries or chose not to seek re-election after that vote. But while Trump did not endorse Valadao, or his primary opponent, Valadao stayed. For Republicans, keeping the 22nd District — currently held by a Republican and adjacent to House Leader Kevin McCarthy’s 23rd District — could be key to strengthening their majority if they take the House.
“This is one of the most competitive seats in the country because for the Republicans to win the House, we have to keep this seat. I have won tight races before because I am focused on the district and the issues that are important to the Valley,” Valadao said in a statement to TIME. “Voters have a choice this November between a congressman who will actually show up and take tough votes, or one who has made a career out of avoiding votes and trying to hide his positions from voters.”
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But Democrats see the district as one that can be flipped in their favor. Although Republicans have won District 22 in recent election cycles, it has historically been competitive, and redistricting added more Democratic voters to the district. The bluer turf, combined with Valadao’s anti-Trump vote, could give an advantage to Democratic candidate Rudy Salas, California Assemblyman.
“Literally, this is Kevin. [McCarthy’s] backyard,” says Mark Martinez, chairman of the political science department at California State University Bakersfield, which is based in the county. “So this congressional district would be a slap in the face. [McCarthy] lose.”
Valadao and Salas have campaigned aggressively, raising more than $2 million each so far in their bid to secure the seat. “Voters here don’t vote for a party, they vote for a candidate,” says Abby Olmstead, Salas’ campaign manager. “They’re really looking for the person who’s going to do the best for the greatest number of people to really deliver.”
The latest polls by RMG Research and David Binder Research found Salas ahead of Valadae by five and eight points, respectively. But while Salas has an advantage after the redistricting, historically low voter turnout among Latino Democrats in the district could work in Valadao’s favor, according to Martinez and Madrid. California 22, which is nearly 60% Latino, will be a test case for whether Republicans can make a significant impact with Latino voters if Valadao wins. “It shows that they’re going to be able to tap into California’s Latino voters, which is the toughest base for Republicans,” says Mike Madrid, a Republican political consultant.
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Some voters may find problems with Valadao’s voting record. Valadao has voted several times against capping the price of insulin, and diabetes is a prevalent problem in the region — something Salas has said in his campaign ads. “This is a direct vote against the interests of the people who live in this region,” says Martinez. It remains to be seen how the decision of the Supreme Court in the past period will be overturned Roe v. Wade will revive the electorate; Valadao is a co-sponsor of a bill that would ban abortion nationally.
Despite Valadao voting to impeach Trump, Republicans continued to financially support him in the days leading up to the election. Punchbowl News reported on Oct. 20 that a Republican super PAC defending Main Street spent six figures on a radio ad attacking Salas as a “jet-setter” who spends more time vacationing than the law. Salas, meanwhile, has support United Farm Workersone of the most influential organizing groups in the region, the same labor group famous for the advocacy led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in the 1960s.
“Most of our congressional districts are not competitive,” Martinez says. “But this is one of the areas where we actually compete all the time. This is what democracy should look like.”
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