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Freshman California Incumbent David Valadao Faces Tougher Race in 2014

by Brandon Fallon, published
California's 21st Congressional District has been solidly Republican since the early 1980s. That is until 2012, after independent redistricting and California's nonpartisan top-two primary went into effect. Now, with major national issues challenging incumbents from both parties and the changing demographics in California, U.S. Representative David Valadao (R) is looking at a more difficult path to victory in 2014.

Valadao won the 2012 primary with 58 percent of the vote against two Democratic candidates. The two Democrats earned a combined 44 percent with John Hernandez beating Blong Xiong -- who had the support of the Democratic establishment -- to make it to the November ballot. There was little change in terms of party breakdown by the time of the general election even though participation increased marginally.

In 2014, there is not a presidential election and the statewide offices are mostly noncompetitive in the Democrat's favor so turnout is likely to be lower.

Due to the new redistricting map, it is difficult to compare previous elections and the ensuing Republican landslides that followed.

Devin Nunes, the previous representative from the 21st district -- who now calls the 22nd district home -- went unopposed in 2010 and never went below 67 percent in a general election. Moderate Democratic Representative Jim Costa, originally from the 20th district before it partially merged with CA-21, ran in the newly redrawn 16th instead of the open 21st.



Obama won CA-21 in 2012 with 55 percent, which on paper does not look surprising since Democrats outnumber Republicans in registered voter count, 47 percent to 32 percent.

The district's demographics imply that Valadao's political stances are somewhat moderate. He was one of 86 House Republicans who voted to end the government shutdown, much to the chagrin of the local tea party. While voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act is a GOP staple which Valadao has done, the most pivotal issue in the district will be immigration.

An October poll released by Magellan Strategies showed 77 percent of registered voters in CA-21 have "total support" for comprehensive immigration reform. Since 70 percent of the population is Hispanic and approximately half are in the voting age population, immigration is likely to play a role in any upcoming election until something is done.

Valadao supports reform, even backing Rep. Joe Garcia's (D-FL) H.R. 15, which is an attempt at bipartisan reform in the House.

Since Valadao's district is heavily agricultural -- the congressman was a dairy farmer -- the farm bill, or lack thereof, is also important to his constituency.

Valadao voted for the passage of the Republican House version, H.R. 2642, which reduces food stamps 10 times as much as the Senate version. If nothing is done to reconcile the Senate and House versions, millions of Americans will feel the impact as the price of milk, orange juice, and other goods at the local grocery store may double.

The upcoming June primary will likely see a rematch between the congressman and John Hernandez unless a stronger Democratic opponent can convince Hernandez to back out. Amanda Renteria, a former aide to Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and former chief of staff for Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), has been mentioned as a possible contender as well.

Assuming Hernandez stays in until the primary, Renteria has stronger establishment ties and already an endorsement from Emily's List and the DCCC. It is unlikely a Republican challenger will emerge in the primary since it would erode conservative support. Considering the demographics in the district, Renteria, with her background and support, and Hernandez, with his name recognition, could beat out the incumbent in the primary and face each other in the general election.

Voting to end the shutdown and sponsor comprehensive immigration reform may not make Valadao popular with all Republicans, but he is backed by the Republican Party. He still has over $500,000 cash on hand for campaigning, which is more than 5 times what Hernandez spent in 2012. Still, it is going to be a tough race for the freshman incumbent.

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