LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rep. David Valadao advanced Friday to a November runoff in a Democratic-tilting district in California's Central Valley, surviving a challenge from a fellow Republican who faulted the congressman for his vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump.
With most of the votes tallied in the 22nd District, Valadao had about 26% of the vote, several points ahead of rival Republican Chris Mathys.
Valadao’s advance to the November runoff against Democrat Rudy Salas, a state legislator, caps a list of competitive races in California districts that will play into the fight for control of Congress this year.
Valadao, who was never a Trump loyalist and highlights an independent streak, held his seat from 2013 until January 2019, lost it for a term, then won it back in a 2020 rematch with Democrat T.J. Cox, despite running in a strongly Democratic district.
His newly drawn district, the 22nd, has a similar, strong Democratic tilt. Mathys, an ardent Trump supporter, promised to oust Valadao for his impeachment vote. But Trump never significantly engaged in the race and Valadao, a dairy farmer and son of Portuguese immigrants, had the state GOP endorsement and the backing of House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who is close to Trump.
Valadao didn’t support then-candidate Trump in 2016, but then backed his reelection four years later.
However, Valadao would break with Trump’s White House at times, including criticizing the administration for family separations at the border. He ran in 2020 as “an independent problem solver” and in one ad highlighted his work with former President Barack Obama on water issues critical the farm-belt region.
He has called Trump a driving force in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Trump’s “inciting rhetoric was un-American, abhorrent, and absolutely an impeachable offense,” Valadao has said.
Democrats are hoping to defend their fragile majority in the House in midterm elections that typically punish the party that controls the White House. President Joe Biden’s approval ratings have slumped as Americans contend with record-level inflation, a lingering pandemic and soaring gas prices.
Another of the state's marquee races will be in a Democratic-leaning district north of Los Angeles, where Republican Rep. Mike Garcia will have a rematch with the Democrat he defeated two years ago, former legislator Christy Smith.
In a closely divided coastal district in Orange County, Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, a star of the party’s progressive wing, will face Republican Scott Baugh, a former state legislative leader.
In a diverse district anchored in Orange County, Republican U.S. Rep. Michelle Steel, a South Korean immigrant, will face Democrat Jay Chen. The district, which includes the nation’s largest Vietnamese American community, is widely considered a toss-up.
Michael R. Blood, The Associated Press