GOP lawmaker bets against returning abortion to Biden’s district
Democrats challenge controversial reversal of abortion protections in Roe vs. Wade last month will provide them with a needed edge in midterm races they otherwise looked likely to lose, while Republicans – including Valadao – say voters are far more concerned about inflation and the economy. If Democrats fail to persuade voters here, it will be a bad sign for a party struggling with a tough midterm climate as it tries to hold on to seats in places much more favorable to Republicans.
Sitting behind the wheel of his white van last week, passing dairy farms and fields lined with pistachio and almond trees, Valadao said the court’s decision had « excited people on both sides ». But he argued there would likely be no additional voters.
» I do not see it. I really don’t know,” Valadao said. “But the people who pay attention to things in DC here are usually people who are still voting and whose sides are already chosen. I don’t know if anyone is really reversing their decision based on that right now.
Salas begs to differ. He names access to abortion as well as improving health care and infrastructure as the main issues in the race.
« People I’ve spoken to door to door are upset, » Salas said in an interview Thursday in downtown Bakersfield. « So I tell people like ‘Hey, that’s a big difference’… there’s a clear line between our two candidacies. »
National Democratic groups — who will have a harder time tying Valadao to Trump, as they do with other battleground Republicans — are ready to hit the GOP lawmaker on abortion before November. Maddy Mundy, spokeswoman for the House Democrats’ campaign arm, said « voters are horrified by David Valadao’s cruel quest to ban abortion. » Torunn Sinclair, a spokesperson for the National Republican Campaign Committee, argued that Salas « was living in never-never land if he thought abortion would be the main issue in November. »
There is no clear data detailing the reaction of voters in the district, including the Hispanic community which makes up about 70% of the population and a key voting bloc. Even though Biden carried the district by 13 points, there are signs residents are drifting to the party line: Last year, a slim majority of his voters backed a recall effort against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Valadao faces a tough challenger in Salas, who enjoys high notoriety and his own moderate good faith. He assumed the California State Assembly seat that Valadao vacated, albeit with redesigned lines, when Valadao first successfully ran for the House in 2012, and already represents a important part of the district.
Salas isn’t shy about bragging about how active he is in the community, whether it’s running free tax workshops or ‘bus jamming’ campaigns that aim to collect donated school supplies. , community clean-up events and educational efforts to warn against scams that target seniors.
“People still see us. We are always visible. We are always doing something,” Salas said.
Valadao has become a neighborhood staple. After a meeting in Hanford, a driver covered in tattoos stopped his vehicle to allow Valadao to cross the street to his car. « I only did this because you’re David Valadao, » the man shouted jovially through his window before driving off.
The former dairy farmer ranked access to water, the economy and border security as the top three issues in the race, in that order. He’s betting his longstanding approach of focusing on local concerns, meeting with small groups and making himself accessible to voters on either side will help him get through November’s general election. He argues that Salas, in his role as a state legislator in a democratically controlled state, has harmed the region more than he has helped.
« For someone to run from state to federal office, to hold on to their wins like it’s some kind of bragging success… It’s going to be interesting, especially in a year like now, » Valadao said.
Over the past few years, the GOP lawmaker’s strategy has helped him win in a blue district that the national Republican apparatus might otherwise have abandoned.
Voters and political observers in the region agree that the economy and water issues – always a big concern in the persistently dry agrarian district which now faces a drought – will dominate the race. This is reflected in the Salas and Valadao campaigns, where both have a strong focus on water access, infrastructure improvements and economic policies.
But how much abortion rights will come into play is up for debate.
Jason Davenport, 44, president of Allied Potato, Inc. in Bakersfield, is an anti-abortion supporter from Valadao. But he feared the timing of the Supreme Court’s decision « would impact many voters. » Assistant District Attorney Andrew Janz, who has remained heavily involved in Democratic politics in the region since losing to former Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California) in 2018, said he thinks Salas could garner money. votes among Republican women who are pro-abortion rights.
But Tom Holyoke, a political science professor at Fresno State University and a longtime observer of the region’s politics, said it’s unlikely Roe vs. Wade « would play an important role in this district, » arguing instead that water and economic issues like inflation and gas prices would dominate voters’ minds.
Voters continually raised these concerns as Valadao drove through the district on a typically sunny July day. The GOP lawmaker spent an hour in Corcoran meeting with representatives of JC Meat Co., a beef company that displayed marbled cuts of red meat behind a glass checkout counter, greeting them with his typical « what can- I do for you? » and listen to their concerns about energy costs. He asked the same at a later meeting in Hanford, a 20-minute drive north, of two employees of the Kings County Economic Development Corporation, telling them about the barriers young adults face when trying to join. the work market.