Rep. Devin Nunes will be a prime target for Democrats in 2020.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released on Monday its initial target list of 33 Republican and open congressional seats for the upcoming presidential election, and the Tulare Republican is one of just two Californians on the hit list – the other being Duncan D. Hunter of San Diego County.
Nunes’ inclusion on the list was not a surprise, as the polarizing former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee was part of the Democrats’ second crop of California targets in the 2018 election. Of the 10 California Republicans ultimately targeted by the national Democrats in 2018, only Nunes, Hunter and Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, won re-election.
Hunter and his wife were indicted by a federal grand jury last summer, accused of using campaign funds for personal expenses and trying to cover them up. He won re-election by a little more than 3 percentage points.
McClintock defeated Democrat Jessica Morse by about 8 percentage points in the sprawling 4th District, which includes six full counties and parts of four others in the Sierra foothills.
The 22nd Congressional District saw an uncharacteristically close race in 2018, with Fresno prosecutor and political newcomer Andrew Janz running a fierce campaign that drew national headlines and more than $9 million in campaign contributions. Nunes received a little less than 53 percent of the vote in November, by far the closest race in his 16-year career.
As of Oct. 22, Republicans outnumbered Democrats in the 22nd by about 8 percentage points. Republican registration has shrunk in the last decade, though Democrats have made only modest gains. Like many parts of the country, no-party preference registration is on the rise.
Janz said Monday he was “strongly considering” another Nunes challenge.
“We are excited to see the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee take interest in this district,” Janz said in a statement. “Nunes’ poor record on water policy and national security issues should make this congressional district a top priority for Democrats.”
Nunes’ office did not respond to a request for comment.
According to his campaign’s year-end financial report, filed Monday, Janz has about $22,000 left in his account. Nunes has not yet filed his annual report. He had more than $4 million left in his account as of Nov. 26.
Should Janz jump into the race, the early DCCC involvement could make for an interesting political environment in the 22nd.
Janz was an outspoken opponent of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, then the House Minority Leader. He received practically no party support and rejected donations from large corporate donors, instead relying on tens of thousands of individual donations.
Although at times the relationship was described by Janz and sources within the party as a “you go your way, I go mine” agreement, Janz openly criticized the DCCC at several intervals.
The prosecutor has moderate views on gun control and supports above-ground water storage. He told The Bee in September that these beliefs and his unwillingness to accept national positions he did not agree with may have been the cause of the rift.
The DCCC downplayed any friction, saying it trusted Janz to run a campaign specific to the district.
It remains unclear whether the Democrats have started work in the 22nd. When asked if they had opened any offices or hired staff in the area, spokesman Cole Leiter said “those decisions are still in motion.”
In the neighboring 21st District, where TJ Cox eventually edged out Republican incumbent David Valadao in November, the DCCC had its first staffer in place by summer 2017.
The DCCC has kept light pressure on Nunes since the election, sending out regular news releases attacking his voting record and support for President Donald Trump.
In the national memo, the Democrats said many of the key issues in 2018 – health care access, tax reform, Trump, immigration – will again dominate their messaging.