David Valadao is running for re-election in blue California — and avoided a Trump impeachment vote

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FRESNO, Calif. – Two years ago, he was fighting to regain his blue seat, Rep. David G. Valadao (R-Calif.) had to deflect accusations that he was a “yes man” for former President Donald Trump. In the ads, the Republican touted his role in a bill signed by another former president: Barack Obama.

But this year, as Valadao runs in an even bluer district considered one of the most competitive of the election cycle, he is doing little to communicate one defining display of political independence — his vote to impeach Trump.

“There’s really no point in talking about it because so many people know about it,” the farmer said in a recent interview here in the Central Valley, adding that he focuses on local issues.

He declined to say whether he would support Trump in 2024 if he were the Republican presidential nominee — “I haven’t thought that far,” said the congressman, one of 10 House Republicans who voted last year to impeach Trump for inciting deadly riots. in the US Capitol with false claims of a stolen election. Only two are now vying for another term after Trump-backed challengers defeated four in the Republican primary and four others decided not to seek re-election.

Months after narrowly defeating a primary challenge from the right and a Democratic effort to damage him with GOP voters, Valadao is still fighting for his political life in a newly drawn district that favored President Biden by 13 percentage points. Valadao faces lingering opposition from some Trump loyalists — and one Democratic group still trying to use an impeachment vote against him — betting that frustrated voters across the political spectrum here are more interested in his views on gas prices and water shortages than his stance on the former’s failed bid to president to overturn the 2020 election results.

Trump never endorsed challenger Valadao, who is close to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and whom many Republicans considered their best candidate to hold on to the tough seat. Now Valadao faces a much more competitive re-election fight than the only other House Republican who voted to impeach Trump still on the ballot, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.).

Valadao’s Democratic opponent is Rudy Salas, who would be the first Latino representative in the House. Salas, like Valadao, has also campaigned heavily on economic issues and highlights his past working in the grape fields with his father.

From Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to Rep. Nancy Mace (R.C.), Republican officials who have crossed over Trump and survived the former president’s efforts to unseat them have done so by trying to turn the page and refocus their campaigns on other issues. Valadao is following this plan in his general election campaign.

The congressman focused on wallet issues during a recent appearance with former Vice President Mike Pence — who drew backlash from Trump and his allies over his refusal to reverse Trump’s defeat.

“There’s always going to be people who are crazy,” he said last week alongside Pence, who joined him at a fundraiser in Fresno. But “look at how much it costs to put gas in their tank … I just don’t imagine they’ll last until November 8.”

Avoiding the question of whether Valadao was right to impeach Trump, Pence said “the election is about the future” and quickly turned to gas prices. Pence’s relationship with Trump soured when he endorsed the 2020 election on January 6, 2021, despite intense pressure from the former president and disruption from a violent pro-Trump mob. But he avoided open criticism.

One Republican in Valadao’s race is Darrell Evans, a former public service worker who said the rising cost of living is the biggest issue on his mind. He noted that Trump endorsed Valadao in 2020 and said the congressman “stabbed him in the back.”

When asked if he would vote for Valadao over the Democratic candidate, Evans paused and did not commit.

“This is going to be hard,” he said with his arms crossed over his chest.

Democratic ads attack Valadao as an extremist on abortion; is a co-sponsor of federal legislation that would ban the procedure at any stage of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape and incest. Ads from House Majority PAC, a group affiliated with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), attack Valadao both on abortion and his vote this year against a proposal to cap insulin prices.

Another pro-Democrat group spending against Valada, the Voter Protection Project, highlights his impeachment vote in an apparent effort to turn off GOP voters. A website bearing the group’s name calls the congressman a “traitor” to Trump and urges conservatives to “say no” on Nov. 8. The VPP, which did not respond to requests for comment, has spent hundreds of thousands against Valadao since mid-October. , according to ProPublica’s spending database. Their efforts were first reported by Axios.

It echoes Democrats’ tactics from all parties’ primaries, when House Majority PAC spent about $200,000 promoting the impeachment vote in an effort to help GOP candidate Chris Mathys, who was seen as easier to beat. Mathys, who campaigned against Valadao’s anti-Trump vote, came within 2 points of advancing over Valadao. A similar effort in the Michigan primary helped a Trump-backed challenger unseat another Republican who voted for impeachment, Rep. Peter Meijer.

The PAC contributed $100,000 to VPP on Oct. 19, according to Federal Election Commission data. Asked if the money was for VPP ads against Valadao, a spokesman for the House Majority PAC declined to comment.

Democrats are spending tens of millions to boost far-right candidates in nine states

Democrats’ prospects could hinge heavily on their ability to motivate voters amid economic struggles, strategists said, in a working-class, rural, agricultural region where they have previously been hurt by poor voter turnout. In interviews, many said they felt disconnected from politics and rarely voted this year or didn’t plan to.

Julia Vargas, 49, said she usually supports Democrats, but now it’s hard for her to like both parties. Her family has sold her car, laptop and cell phones to pay the bills as her son battles cancer, she said, and she wonders why there hasn’t been more government help. Inflation has squeezed them further, she said at a Walmart Supercenter, where she was perusing a display of $2.98 tank tops.

“We’re run by Democrats in this state and they didn’t show up for me — so it’s hard for me to show up,” Vargas said.

In a statement, Salas said “Central Valley families are fighting” and that Valadao had voted against their interests on issues ranging from insulin costs to school funding.

Valadao, who was first elected to Congress in 2012, has always faced a significant advantage in voter registration for Democrats. Political observers attribute Valada’s victory to his focus on local issues, his work across the aisle on issues such as immigration, and his knowledge of Spanish and outreach in the majority Latino community (his family is from Portugal). He narrowly lost his seat in the Central Valley in 2018, but won it back in 2020, even though Biden won the area by 11 points in 2020.

Asked if Congress will be a lonelier place for Trump critics next year, Valadao echoed Pence, saying he and his colleagues will “focus on the future.”

“We hope the voters will too,” he said.

Greg Dominguez, a conservative voter who supports Valadao, said he was impressed when the congressman stood up to Trump. “At times,” said Dominguez, 52, “I wanted to impeach Trump myself.” But mostly he praised Valadao as someone who “helped with water” and supported the agricultural industry.

Undecided voter Martin Zubia, worried about water and inflation, said he just wanted someone who would “do what they say they’re going to do.” He hasn’t heard anything about the impeachment vote — “I haven’t even been watching the news for the last couple of years,” he said.

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