Congressional Democrat PACs flooded the campaign of Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) with funding in his run against Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) in the 22nd Congressional District race this week following a large drop of support.
During the last several House elections, the 21st Congressional District – soon to be the 22nd in roughly the same area due to redistricting – has seen tumultuous change. The district, which includes part of Bakersfield and Coalinga through the San Joaquin Valley, went from slight red leaning to slightly blue leaning throughout the 2010s, with the current district showing a 5 point Democratic advantage when it comes to voters. Despite this, Valadao managed to hold onto office until the 2018 ballot harvesting blue wave mid-terms, when Democrat TJ 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 have been going 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. Tellingly, a poll in late July found that Salas had an eight point lead over Valadao, with many in the Salas camp gloating of a now all but certain Salas victory in November.
“We are already seeing David Valadao and national Republicans running scared,” noted Salas Campaign Manager Abby Olmstead in early August. “From putting ads up on TV in a primary that he should’ve won handily, to almost not making it through the primary with more Republicans voting against him than for him, Valadao is vulnerable and our polling indicates that.”
However, all that changed in August. Former Congressman Cox was arrested by the FBI in mid-August on 15 counts of wire fraud, 11 counts of money laundering, one count of financial institution fraud, and one count of campaign contribution fraud. Cox’s arrest was a hit for the Democrats, especially since many of the charges circulated around the 2018 Congressional election. In addition, renewed worries over water shortages and crime rebounded, with many looking unfavorably on the Democrats. As a result, the race has gone back to being a toss-up, with Salas only now having a slim 2% edge in the race.
“Within a month, Valadao has been seeing deja vu of 2018 to being a strong contender once again,” said Alex Guzman, a Central Californian pollster, to the Globe on Friday. “He had some luck with the Cox arrest coming in and giving him some goodwill, but a lot of it has also been voters swayed on policies. In particular, Latino voters have been going to Valadao over issues like crime, and many in agriculture and other sectors having growing anger over water issues. You can bet this heat wave isn’t helping the Democrats out either. After Labor Day, it will be interesting to see if the Democrats even have a lead there anymore at all.”
“This is a race where every House seat matters. The GOP has a 75% chance of retaking the House this year, but you better believe every race counts. That’s why every toss-up is seeing a lot of attention, and that includes the new 22nd District.”
Dem. PACs flood district with new ad buys after drop in August
As a result, Democratic PACs have been buying ads there like crazy, with many prime slots already being taken by the GOP. In particular, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus PAC, Bold PAC, has ramped up the number of digital ads, largely focusing on health care costs. The House Majority PAC also announced new TV ads. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), however, added to the already $3 million plus in ads in the Bakersfield and Fresno areas, attacking Valadao, with another major point being health care.
“This is a hefty investment and the choice of this district, which is crucial to Democrats holding onto the House, shows that Bold PAC will continue to be a key player in the midterm elections,” said Bold PAC executive director Victoria McGroary earlier this week.
The GOP has also pumped millions into the race in the last few months, and had already bought ads to run through election day throughout the district. Both the Congressional Leadership Fund and the National Republican Congressional Committee in particular have both been major ad buyers. But when compared to the Democrats, the Republicans reserved early, and as a result, may be in a better position advertising wise for the rest of the election season.
“Republicans saw that they were down but not out in the district last month,” continued Guzman. “So they prepared early and put in a lot of money for ads down the road, often getting the choicest slots. Democrats didn’t think that far ahead and are now scrambling because Salas is slipping. It’s back to being anyone’s race.”
More campaign advertising expenditures are expected to come out in the coming weeks in tight district races across California.
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