The 22nd Congressional District sits squashed in the San Joaquin Valley, sitting in both Fresno County and Tulare County. Part of the city of Fresno is in the district, as is Visalia and Turlock.
Almost evenly Hispanic and white, the 22nd has a large presence in agriculture. While there are several other industries and issues important to the region, agriculture is king.
The GOP has capitalized on this and has had deep roots in the area for decades. Up until 2018, Congressional candidates won here by 60%. Trump and Cox also won here by 10 points or more in 2016 and 2018 respectively. Registered GOP voters also outnumber Democrats.
There has been a slight shift of blue voters coming into Fresno and Visalia in recent years, but the Republicans’ strong agriculture stance here has won them the support of many Hispanic and Asian voters. But after a close 2018 election, Democrats are hoping that it wasn’t a fluke and that the seat remains vulnerable.
Since 2012, the district has had but one Congressman, Devin Nunes (R-CA). He has won a lot of support in the area due to his agricultural commitment and because of his transportation policies. In fact, in 2014, he nearly got 75% of the vote. However, it all almost fell apart in 2018.
After a turbulent few years which saw Nunes at the forefront of the President Trump-Russia investigation, the blue wave hitting the San Joaquin Valley, and a strong challenger in Democrat Andrew Janz, Nunes barely won in 2018 with 53% of the vote. The near-loss shook Republicans, as Nunes had been an ardent Trump supporter. It also shook Nunes, who has been battling defamation case after defamation case ever since the last election, including one against Twitter over fake accounts.
Despite Nunes still polling well, Democrats are pouring in money like they did two years ago for new candidate Phil Arballo, and are hoping that this will put them over the edge in the district.
Devin Nunes – Congressman Devin Nunes is coming off another two very turbulent years in the 2020 race and is hoping that he has enough support to win out yet again. Nunes grew up raising cattle on his family dairy farm. He began his political career at the age of 23 by becoming a board members at the College of the Sequoias. Five years late in 2011, former President George W. Bush named him the California Rural Development Director in the Department of Agriculture.
With now GOP, agricultural, and political bona fides, Nunes was victorious winning a Congressional seat in 2002, after previously failing to be elected in 1998. His surprising win at age 29 marked him as a future large player in the party. This has come to fruition in recent years with him becoming Chairman of the Intelligence Committee in 2015, making him the leading Republican in defending Donald Trump during his impeachment inquiry last year. It won him national recognition and nationwide GOP fame as well as the ire of Democrats.
Nunes has proven to be very Conservative. Besides being one of Trump’s major defenders, Nunes has been ranked as one of the rightest-leaning Congressmen, which has surprised many as he is from California. However, his position in the Trump impeachment, his defamation battles, and his stance on COVID-19 protections have made many in the region wince a bit in 2020. Many agricultural groups have cooled on him as a result, although many are still upset over his stances on worker rights and marijuana. But business groups love him, as do property right groups.
This year he still isn’t hiding his fondness for Trump, but he does seem to be going back to government reduction party basics mixed with pro-agriculture policies. He has also not mentioned immigration as much recently. By doing this, Nunes may regain many of the more centrist voters who have felt alienated the past several years.
In addition to Trump, Nunes has all sorts of prominent Republicans backing him, giving him support from his core voters as well as those on the fence. Nunes isn’t used to having close races, and this year he is hedging his bets with challenger Arballo.
Phil Arballo – A financial advisor and small business owner, Arballo is the Democratic challenger to Nunes this year. Arballo has had little to no elected experience, with membership in the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and being chairman of Fresno’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee his only real highlights.
Like Nunes, he is pushing water use and agricultural issues, making a big swing towards the agricultural vote. He’s also going after disaffected Hispanic voters with his immigration policy and aiming to keep many centrist voters from switching over by pushing environmental concerns. But for him, the big thing is going after special interest groups, directly going after Nunes and hoping to force the issue among voters.
Labor unions are falling head over heels for him in endorsements, hoping to provide him many of the blue collar and agricultural workers votes in the district. Dolores Huerta is also backing him, cementing Hispanic support, as is Janz, who hopes to give Arballo some of that 2018 magic.
Arballo is even getting a lot of support with funding, just like Janz got two years ago. However, there has been a lot of blowback too. Arballo doesn’t have an agricultural background, yet has photos of himself next to tractors or talking with farmers everywhere, including on his own website. Many in agriculture in the district, especially those who know that Nunes is a farmer, aren’t happy at this, with many in the industry even calling him out on it.
What does this mean?
Like 2018, this race will be closer than Nunes is comfortable with, but he should prevail. He’s coming in with a lot of baggage, but at the end of the day he is a Republican in a very Republican district. And despite Arballo pulling in and spending money like crazy, Nunes still has more in his war chest.
During the March primary, Nunes was the only Republican running yet still came out with 56% of the vote over everyone else. Even with his promise that COVID-19 was going to have gone away by Easter earlier in the year, as well as his stance on corralling the virus, he is still bringing out the vote better than Arballo could. Trump-backlash might hurt him in terms of votes, but it won’t make him lose.
Nunes is going to hold on. If he gets above 55%, he will know he is secure for awhile. But if it comes below again, Democrats are only going to fight hard again in 2022.
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