Politics & Government

Republicans think they can knock off this California Democrat, but they don’t have a candidate

Vulnerable Democratic Rep. TJ Cox doesn’t have an announced challenger in his 2020 race yet, but based on polling Republicans are doing in the district, they have their candidate in mind.

They want a rematch of 2018.

The National Republican Congressional Committee took a poll of about 400 likely voters in the district between June 30 and July 2. The Republican poll results say the question pitted Cox, D-Fresno, against a “potential Republican challenger,” which showed 52% for the challenger, 36% for Cox and 11% undecided.

But a Republican source who has seen the poll confirmed that the potential Republican challenger specifically mentioned to the likely voters was former Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, who Cox defeated by less than 1,000 votes in 2018.

Valadao said he’s “putting a lot of thought into” whether he would run again and would decide “real soon,” according to GV Wire. He said he’s been “milking cows” over the past few months and staying out of politics.

“TJ Cox is a corrupt Congressman who will firmly be rejected by voters in CA-21, if he isn’t forced to resign in scandal beforehand,” said Torunn Sinclair, spokeswoman for the NRCC.

The NRCC announced the seat was a primary target for it in early 2018 and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee similarly announced the seat was a priority for it to defend.

Cox has no announced challengers yet, with political strategists theorizing anyone potentially vying for the seat is waiting to see if Valadao will jump into the race.

“In 2018, the Central Valley kicked out a career politician who voted to take away health care coverage for over 60,000 of his own constituents. Working families sent Valadao packing because they won’t tolerate a DC insider who will prioritize Washington special interests over expanding health care access, investing in needed infrastructure and bringing clean drinking water to all corners of the Central Valley,” said Andy Orellana, spokesman for the DCCC. “Apparently, the NRCC and David Valadao didn’t get the message, but you can be sure voters in CA-21 will reject the morally bankrupt Trump-Valadao agenda again in 2020.”

Neither the NRCC nor the DCCC were as heavily involved in the race in 2018, when Cox raised nearly $3 million and Valadao raised about $3.3 million. Cox raised about $300,000 toward his reelection in the first quarter of 2019.

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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.