In the rollercoaster of an election that is the 22nd District House race, momentum has swung back in favor of Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) following Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) holding a narrow lead since early September.
Since 2013, the soon to be former 21st District/incoming 22nd District covering the Southern part of the San Joaquin Valley, has seen Congressman Valadao win, lose, then win the district again despite a growing Democratic advantage. Valadao managed to hold onto office until the 2018 ballot harvesting blue wave mid-terms, when Democrat T.J. Cox won by roughly 900 votes, 50.4% to 49.6%. However, two years later, a Twitter scandal and the revelation that Cox had unpaid taxes swung the election back to Valadao – this time with almost 2,000 votes a difference.
This year, with district remappings and a new Democratic challenger, things seemed to go Salas’ way. A growing population of people from larger cities, mostly Democratic leaning, pushed the areas population to be largely more in favor with Salas. A poll in mid-July had Salas up by around 8 points, but former Congressman Cox being arrested by the FBI the next month removed virtually all progress made by the Democrats, with many on the fence voters inching back towards Valadao.
The race was a dead heat by late August, causing many Democratic Party committees to buy a lot of ads to counter the GOP. Throughout September and early October this strategy worked, with Salas going back up by several points. Salas seemed like he was back. That is, until around October 17th.
In just over a week since that date, Valadao’s percentage chance to win went from 47% to 56%, with the estimated popular vote total essentially being flipped. So what has been going on in the district for a turnaround this sudden, this large so late in the election?
As it turns out, lots of things. Earlier this month, Salas removed himself from debates with Valadao following a National Republican Congressional Committee ad that questioned Salas’ decision to vote for AB 2486, a passed bill that added a tax on medications for opioid abuse recovery that many found to have actually hurt those trying to afford medication. When he didn’t get an apology from Valadao for the ads or had the ads removed, Salas decided to not debate at all.
“We believe that debates should function as a place of discourse,” said the Salas campaign earlier this month. “Unfortunately, David Valadao has made clear that he is only interested in engaging in disinformation. His television ads made the outrageous claim that Assemblymember Salas’ support for AB 2486, the Opioid Prevention and Rehabilitation Act, was harmful to the community.”
That decision backfired though, with many seeing Salas as either giving up or not giving Valadao a chance.
“That really hurt Salas,” explained Alex Guzman, a Central California pollster, to the Globe on Tuesday. “He could have gone after Valadao on this during the debate or push ads right back. But instead he just left the debate. I think he was looking to look like the better man in doing s, but to many here, according to one former Salas supporter I talked to, he simply ‘looked like the kid who didn’t like the rules so he just took the ball and went home’.”
Valadao surges with only a few weeks left until the election
Also hurting Salas has been Valadao’s more centric efforts. In addition to having voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, Valadao also got some surprise support from former Vice President Mike Pence last week in the form of a visit. Commenters noted the more centric-approach helped contribute to that jump.
“For voters more on the right, they may not like that Valadao voted to impeach Trump, but they still see him better than Salas by miles,” added Guzman. “So he kept those votes, and now is chipping away at the more moderate ones and for those who are undecided. Pence coming out and talking about how he himself was shocked at the gas prices when he last visited out here resonated a lot.”
But, in addition to a new ad push, economic, drought, and abortion concerns were the major parts that boosted Valadao back up. While both candidates have said that they would fight to help the District out with water in the area, something growing more desperate as towns in the district may run out within a matter of weeks, abortion has been the issue that helped out Valadao the most.
While Salas has embraced the state’s pro-abortion stances, Valadao has maintained that he is pro-life, with only the exceptions of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. In the 22nd District, which is majority Latino and Catholic, that issue has caused many voters to think twice on who to vote for before election day or sending out their ballot.
“Besides water, which is issue number one out here, abortion has played a low-key but decisive issue for a lot of people,” continued Guzman. “A lot of Latinos out here side more with the Democrats, but many are Catholic, and they oppose abortion. Especially the older Latino segment, who holds on to those values more. You notice the change in the percentages happened just as we all started getting our ballots in the mail. Everything sort of culminated there. Ads, the debate, the abortion issue, Pence, and a lot of other things too.
“Salas has proved before that he can come back in those polls and with momentum. But he now has only two weeks to do it, and it may not be enough this time around.”
Election day is on November 8, 2022.
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