BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — In a high-stakes election year, with control of Congress on the line, all eyes are on a handful of ultra-competitive Congressional districts — including a match-up right here in the Central Valley between Republican incumbent David Valadao and Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas.
“The DCCC, the Kern County Democratic Party, the whole Democratic apparatus is gonna have to work really hard,” Democratic political analyst Neel Sannappa said.
“We’ll be pushing hard on this one,” Republican political analyst Cathy Abernathy said.
Democrats’ hopes at keeping the House lay in flipping districts that voted for Democrat Joe Biden in 2020 but sent a Republican to Capitol Hill. Districts like Valadao’s which voted for President Biden by a double-digit margin in 2020.
Republicans only need a net gain of five seats nationwide to win the House, according to Inside Elections. But as California GOP Chairwoman Jessica Patterson points out, Valadao’s district is still key for the GOP.
“We think we have a great opportunity to hang on to that seat as well and make sure that California is the driving force in making sure we take back the House,” she said.
Despite Democrats out-registering Republicans in the district by about 16%, Valadao has held the seat for most of the last decade — losing it only briefly for two years to Democrat TJ Cox in 2018.
“When you have a Congressional district that has been voting most often for a Republican, the Republican party is going to work hard to keep that,” Abernathy said.
But the district continues to be plagued by low turn-out. The results three weeks after the June 2022 primary election show only 55,000 people sent in a ballot in the 22nd District race. By comparison, Kevin McCarthy’s House district in the Valley saw just under 140,000 people cast a vote. The election results are not yet certified.
While Sannappa said he believes Salas will prevail in November, he notes that Salas did not receive over 50% of votes in the primary despite being the only Democrat in the race, signaling, he said, this is anyone’s game.
“If you really dive into the numbers, more Democrats voted in the primary but Rudy [Salas] still didn’t get a majority,” Sannappa said. “So that means Valadao is still doing what he’s been able to do in past years — peel off some of those cross-voters that would usually vote Democrat but for some reason in Congress back Valadao.”
After a closely-watched primary, analysts say the 22nd race remains a toss-up district in November that could have implications around the country.