This pro-impeachment California Republican is facing a tough battle

Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.)
Greg Nash
Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) arrives for a press conference after a closed-door House Republican conference meeting on Wednesday, September 14, 2022.

Rep. David Valadao (Calif.) is fighting for his political life in an election that will determine whether one of the last remaining House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Trump sees another term.  

Valadao is one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump following the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, and one of two who sought reelection and prevailed in their primary.

He’s now facing Democrat Rudy Salas, a state lawmaker who placed first in California’s open primary in June by close to 20 percentage points. The race is rated as a toss-up by the Cook Political Report.

Valadao, who was first elected to the House in 2012 before losing the seat in 2018 and winning it back in 2020, narrowly beat two GOP challengers in a primary this summer.

While he didn’t face a Trump-backed challenger, his impeachment vote complicated his primary. 

“I think it definitely made his primary race require more effort maybe than normal,” said Lisa Bryant, chairwoman of the department of political science at California State University, Fresno.

In a highly controversial move that brought criticism from some Democratic lawmakers, Democratic groups ran ads during Valadao’s primary that sought to elevate Trump-aligned GOP candidate Chris Mathys.

The House Majority PAC, which is aligned with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), released an ad saying that “David Valadao claims he’s Republican, yet David Valadao voted to impeach President Trump.” It called Mathys a “true conservative” and “100 percent pro-Trump.”

Democrats have utilized similar tactics in other GOP primaries, banking on the idea that propping up more hard-line conservatives in primaries will give them easier opponents to beat in general elections, despite complaints from some members.

“Many of us are facing death threats over our efforts to tell the truth about Jan. 6,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) told Politico in a summer interview. “To have people boosting candidates telling the very kinds of lies that caused Jan. 6 and continues to put our democracy in danger, is just mind-blowing.”

The House Majority PAC and other groups have been unapologetic about the strategy.

“David Valadao is an out-of-touch extremist who voted against a law to prevent gas price gouging and would eagerly help Kevin McCarthy implement a national abortion ban. That’s why House Majority PAC is doing whatever it takes to elect Rudy Salas and flip this seat blue in November,” House Majority PAC Communications Director C.J. Warnke told The Hill in a statement on Monday. 

Asked about the Democratic effort, Salas campaign manager Abby Olmstead told The Hill in an email that “Rudy is focused on his own campaign and not on what outside groups are doing.”

It’s possible the Democratic effort could backfire in helping Valadao, which has sought to use his impeachment vote to his benefit.

“It means different things to different voters certainly,” Valadao campaign senior adviser Robert Jones told The Hill. “Most importantly, and I think above all else, regardless of how you view it on a partisan basis, it’s a demonstration of his independence.”

“David has not been afraid to stand up to his party through his time in Congress, and this is sort of the ultimate demonstration of that. And so I think most voters see it as that he’s going to do what he thinks is right, not what any party thinks is right. That’s what people in the district I think want,” Jones added.

Democrats complimentary of Valadao’s vote to impeach Trump say voters should consider the rest of his record.

“I think that just because he voted for Trump’s impeachment does not take away the fact that the policies and agenda that he’d subscribed to is much reflective of the Trump agenda. And every member of Congress — Democrat and Republican — should be [wanting] to hold the executive branch accountable. That’s part of their job,” said Antjuan Seawright, senior adviser for the House Democrats’ campaign arm.

Still, in a sign that being seen as independent of party could resonate with voters in the district, Salas is also touting a willingness to buck his party.

One ad touts how he was the only Democrat in the state Assembly to vote in 2017 against a transportation plan that would have raised gas taxes. He later lost a committee chairmanship following the vote.

Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist Mike Trujillo said the Central Valley’s leanings are toward candidates who are more toward the center.

“Democrats and Republicans in the Central Valley have a very moderate — they both have a very moderate DNA, right? Valadao voted for impeachment. Salas voted against his party against a gas tax. That’s consistent across the Central Valley because it’s a very centrist-oriented part of the state,” he added.

The race is also seen as competitive, given that the newly drawn 22nd Congressional District leans more favorably toward Democrats.

The California news outlet CalMatters notes that 43.4 percent of residents in the district are registered Democrats, compared to 26 percent who are registered as Republicans and 22.6 percent who have no party preference.  

The data website FiveThirtyEight gives the district a partisan lean of plus 10 points Democrat, but Salas is anticipating a tight campaign.

“We know this is gonna be a tough race, and we’ve seen that play out. But we also have such a fantastic candidate,” Olmstead said.

Republicans who backed Trump’s impeachment are an endangered species in the House.

Eight pro-impeachment Republicans — including Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), once the third-ranking House Republican — either lost their primaries to Trump-backed challengers or opted against running for reelection this cycle. Aside from Valadao, the only other pro-impeachment GOP lawmaker who may sit in the next Congress is Rep. Dan Newhouse (Wash.).

In a nod to the competitiveness of the House seat and the dwindling number of pro-impeachment Republicans left, former Vice President Mike Pence, who rebuffed efforts to overturn the 2020 election, campaigned earlier this week for Valadao in Fresno, Calif.

Republican strategist Doug Heye, who previously served as communications director of the Republican National Committee, said the impeachment vote allows Valadao “to talk to independent voters in a way, and even some soft Democrats, in a way that most Republicans wouldn’t be able to.”

Tags 2022 elections California Dan Newhouse David Valadao Donald Trump Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Nancy Pelosi Rudy Salas Stephanie Murphy
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