State Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) is expected to announce her run for the 2024 22nd Congressional District race soon according to new reports on Monday, potentially setting up a three-way race with incumbent Congressman David Valadao (R-CA), and former Democratic Assemblyman and 2022 district candidate Rudy Salas.
The current 22nd district covers part of Bakersfield, goes North to cover Porterville and the outskirts of Visalia and Hanford before arching to the West before swooping down back to Bakersfield. The largely agricultural district is Latino majority and is known for being one of the most notable swing districts in the state. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, but many of the those not affiliated with any party tend to lean Republican.
This can be seen through recent elections. While Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) won the latest Senate race there in 2022 by a 51%-49% margin, the district also overwhelming voted for Governor Newsom’s recall in 2021 58% to 42%, supported Trump in 2020 by giving him 51.6% of all votes there, and favored Brian Dahle in the 2022 gubernatorial election over Governor Gavin Newsom 52% to 48%. In the most recent Congressional election, Valadao also beat Salas by around 3,000 votes, giving him a narrow 51.5% to 48.5% victory following months of back and forth in the polls.
For 2024, California Democrats have already targeted the 22nd District as one of the most vulnerable in California. With it still being considered a toss-up, Salas already applied to run again earlier this year due to the closeness of the last race. However, with Salas already a one-time loser against Valadao, his failure to win despite the Democratic party pumping in millions, and wanting a candidate to appeal to both women and Latinos in the district, many in the party wanted a different candidate. This led to Hurtado moving forward.
Born in 1988, Hurtado graduated from CSU-Sacramento in the early 2010’s and became a community organizer for public employees in the Central Valley. In 2016 she became a Sanger City Councilwoman, and only two years later was elected to the state Senate, beating then-Senator Andy Vidak. While she won comfortably in 2018, redistricting placed her in a new district for the 2022 election, which she barely won by a narrow margin of 20 votes, 68,457 to 68,437, against Republican challenger David Shepard last year.
The 2022 election, which caused two recounts to be triggered, proved to be a major stumbling block for Hurtado. With all other upcoming local and state races in her district having the GOP either promoting Latino or tried and true candidates, getting rid of one of the major advantages that helped her win last year, she subsequently looked up to a higher election – to Congress.
If Hurtado should run, both Republicans and Democrats have both noted that she faces an uphill battle. Decisions of her past are even more critical now in elections, such as her not backing critical water storage legislation and having a track record in Sacramento as being weak on crime. For an agricultural district that has faced multiple water and crime issues in the past few years, Hurtado could be weakened in the polls.
“Her past decisions continue to haunt her,” Alex Guzman, a Central Californian pollster, told the Globe on Friday. “She won last year by the skin of her teeth and knows that any other election would not end well for her. She’s a young gun for the Democrats, who sorely need them, and has proven to be a winner in close elections before. But those votes could really hurt her. Latino farmworkers, her bread and butter, feel very strongly about water issues because it’s their livelihood. Same with farmers in general, as well as many in cities who know of the emergency as well. Her past will haunt her in this one. It did in 2022, and if there had been another week, she would not have won.”
A Valadao/Salas/Hurtado battle
Also concerning is how well she would do in the primary against Salas. Salas came within 3,000 votes of winning the seat last year and has maintained popularity in the district from his time in the Assembly and Bakersfield City Council there. There is no guarantee that Hurtado could pull the support necessary to beat him, especially with a large part of Bakersfield, his home city, being on his side.
NRCC Spokesperson Ben Petersen noted that “After struggling to hold on in the last election by just 13 votes, Melissa Hurtado knows she can’t win again, so she’s putting her self-interest over the Central Valley. Hurtado supported jacking up the gas tax, attacked public safety and opposed securing the Valley’s water. A brutal Melissa Hurtado–Rudy Salas primary battle will test which of these self-serving candidates is more desperate for a taxpayer-funded salary.”
“You can’t also discount Salas,” added Guzman. “He’s been at the game longer than Hurtado and has built up more of a base here. He did surprisingly well last year and could have beaten Valadao if party scandals didn’t flare up.”
“But overall, Hurtado needs to bounce back from a barely won state Senate seat, overcome a lot of catastrophic past votes, somehow beat Salas in the primary, and then beat Valadao in the general, where it should be noted that he has even more support now due to years of being the incumbent.”
“And then the other factor – turnout. 2024 will have a lot of people coming out to vote. The Presidential election is next year, as is an open Senate seat in California. Both will mean higher turnout. And that means you can’t rely on that D or R next to your name to win necessarily, as a lot more voters, polarized voters at that, will be out there. Hurtado does have a chance, but she will need to manage to get more support than Salas and Valadao, both of whom already have several legs up on her right now. Hurtado could bring out Latino voters and female voters for her, but again, she needs to really overcome her past decisions and close past votes for this to really fly.”
“Hurtado’s career went up like a rocket, going from community organizer to Councilwoman to State Senator in roughly 4 years. That doesn’t happen every day. For this Congressional election, it will show if she has what it takes to move up even more, or if she finally reached her political height.”
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