The close 22nd District House race was called late on Monday for Congressman David Valadao (R-CA), with him narrowly defeating his challenger, Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), in one of the last remaining undecided House races in the country.
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.
Redistricting for 2022 put the number of likely blue voters more in the Democrats favor, with Assemblyman Salas winning the June primary over Republican candidates split over several issues, including Valadao’s support of impeaching then-President Trump. Valadao managed to come out just ahead of main GOP challenger Chris Mathys, but was still well behind in polls to Sala, with a poll in mid-July having Salas up by around 8 points. However, former Congressman Cox getting 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 in the Central Valley district 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. But then the Salas campaign grew upset with a GOP ad that questioned Salas’ voting on a passed bill in Sacramento that added a tax on medications for opioid abuse recovery that many found to have actually hurt those trying to afford medication. Salas decided to pull out of the debate in retaliation, causing many voters on-the-fence or slightly leaning his way to switch to Valadao.
“Salas did the absolute stupidest thing he could possibly do,” Alex Guzman, a Central California pollster, told the Globe on Tuesday. “He could have simply made that a point in the debate and gone on the attack there, but instead he removed himself from probably the best forum he could have possibly chosen to address it. If you think something the other candidate said was outrageous, fine, then go ahead and call them out on it and fight them in the debate on it! Use facts, reverse the issue back on them, whatever. Just don’t pull out. But he did. That, along with some last minute support from former Vice President Pence and some other GOP luminaries, pushed Valadao through.”
Before election day, most outlets said the race would be close, giving it a toss-up with a slight edge towards Valadao. Votes in on election day gave Valadao a slight lead. However, the election soon dragged on for almost another two weeks, as votes slowly trickled in and Salas remaining within striking distance the entire time. But on Monday, with Valadao getting an updated 51.7% of the vote, or 51,842, and Salas still behind with 48.3%, or 48,461 votes, and only 2% of all votes not counted, Valadao passed into insurmountable territory, winning the race.
Valadao wins 22nd District race
“The Central Valley is my home, and I am once again humbled by the Central Valley’s support and faith in me,” tweeted out Valadao late on Monday. “Thank you #CA22, time to get back to work! To everyone who supported this campaign by putting in long hours, knocking on doors, and believing in this cause – thank you. I could not have done it without you. I commend Rudy Salas for running a strong campaign and his service to our community in the State Assembly.
“To the election workers in Kern, Kings and Tulare counties – I appreciate your hard work over the past couple of weeks to make sure every vote was counted fairly and accurately. To my constituents, those who voted for me and those who didn’t – I will continue to be a representative who puts the Central Valley first and works tirelessly to improve your quality of life.”
— David G. Valadao (@dgvaladao) November 22, 2022
As of Tuesday morning, Salas has yet to concede the election. But analysts note that the closeness of the race will encourage Democrats to put the district on the top of their flip list for 2024.
“They lost out this year, and actually helped out the Republicans make some gains in California,” added Guzman. “Salas can blame whoever, but what it really came down to was not leaving a debate just because you didn’t agree with the other guy. End of the day, it’s on him. But the Valadao team also played it brilliantly, and to the Democrat’s chagrin, may have won over some more people in the process. 2024 will be real interesting, as memories of voting to impeach Trump will have faded some more, and the Democrats learning their lessons from this one.”
“The race was close not only because of the district just plain having more Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, but because Salas recovered from each time he fell in support, usually through huge infusions of money for ads. And it wasn’t enough.”
Final voting results are expected to be in soon.
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