The West

A California Republican wants a comeback in 2020. Democrats hit him with blue wave playbook

Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, left, has conceded to Fresno Democrat TJ Cox in the race for Valadao’s seat in California’s 21st Congressional District.
Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, left, has conceded to Fresno Democrat TJ Cox in the race for Valadao’s seat in California’s 21st Congressional District. Fresno Bee file

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is going to bat early for one of the party’s most vulnerable California members, Rep. TJ Cox, even though the freshman lawmaker technically doesn’t have an opponent.

The campaign arm for House Democrats is launching two ads on Facebook starting Tuesday against Cox’s most probable challenger, former Republican Rep. David Valadao of Hanford.

Cox, D-Fresno, defeated Valadao in one of the nation’s closest elections in 2018, unseating the incumbent Republican by a margin of fewer than 1,000 votes.

Valadao has indicated he’s running again in filings to the Federal Election Commission and at fundraisers, but has continued to be coy about announcing his official run.

The Democratic ads align Valadao with President Donald Trump — who is deeply unpopular in the district. Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, won the district by 16 points over Trump.

The ads also bring up Valadao’s voting for the American Health Care Act, or AHCA, the Republican replacement bill for Obamacare. The Democratic Party declined to say how much it is spending on the ads.

Both of those issues were winners for California Democrats in 2018, when Democrats flipped seven California districts from Republicans. All of the contested races prominently focused on health care.

The Trump ad is a gif that shows Valadao’s face turning into Trump’s, and telling the viewer that Valadao voted with Trump 98 percent of the time he was in Congress.

That figure is technically correct, referencing figures compiled by FiveThirtyEight, but their use can be slightly misleading. Most legislation a Republican president does not support is not considered on the House floor if Republicans also control that chamber, as they did during the two years Valadao and Trump overlapped.

The only times Valadao broke with Trump, according to FiveThirtyEight, were when Valadao supported sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea and the extension of government funding in December 2018 that would have included $5.7 billion for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The second ad, which is in Spanish, shows the letters AHCA in the form of a wall, and says, “David Valadao supported building a wall between 60,000 people and access to health insurance.”

The 60,000 figure refers to the amount of people in Valadao’s district who would have lost health insurance if Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, was repealed and the AHCA implemented instead. The Republican health care law failed to pass the Senate.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that 23 million people would lose insurance by 2026 if the AHCA was enacted. On average, that means about 53,000 people per district would lose health insurance. Valadao’s district has a higher proportion of people who rely on Medicaid than most districts.

A district-by-district breakdown was assembled by David Cutler, a professor of applied economics at Harvard University, and Emily Gee, a health economist at the liberal Center for American Progress. They said they based the reduction estimates on a combination of CBO numbers, local data from the conservative Kaiser Family Foundation, the U.S. Census numbers and administrative data from the nonpartisan Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.