Ready for a rematch? California Republican ousted in blue wave files to run in 2020

David Valadao, left, a Hanford Republican, lost his congressional seat to Fresno Democrat TJ Cox, right, in 2018.
David Valadao, left, a Hanford Republican, lost his congressional seat to Fresno Democrat TJ Cox, right, in 2018.

After months of speculation, former Rep. David Valadao has filed to run against Rep. TJ Cox – again.

The move sets up a rematch between Valadao, a Republican from Hanford, and Cox, D-Fresno. Cox won against then-incumbent Valadao by less than 1,000 votes in 2018. Valadao was originally declared the winner, but in the weeks and even months after the race, a count of ballots continued, and Cox was declared the victor.

Valadao hinted to The Bakersfield Californian on Wednesday that he would be running, but would not declare his candidacy.

“We’re not making any announcements yet,” Valadao told the newspaper. “We’re looking at it but we’re not ready. We have been making calls, talking to people.”

But his statement of candidacy appeared on the Federal Election Commission website, dated Tuesday, declaring his intention to run for California’s 21st Congressional District in 2020.

The National Republican Congressional Committee referred comments to Valadao’s representatives.

“When David has something to say we are sure he will say it,” said Vern Costa, chairman of the Kings County Republican Party. “In the meantime, TJ Cox should cherish the remaining days he has left in Congress.”

Valadao said as recently as last week that he was “milking cows” and still deciding.

The rematch could be costlier and uglier than 2018.

The NRCC named the district one of its targets and has doggedly attacked Cox during his first six months in office.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it will defend the seat, meaning much more money and outside group involvement in the district than there was in 2018.

Additionally, both men are vulnerable to attack on similar issues: their business practices.

Cox, with his dozens of business connections, has had issues such as not properly declaring those interests on financial disclosures, liens being assessed against him personally and his businesses, and nonprofit organizations being declared delinquent.

Valadao’s family farm was seized in June 2018 after the dairy failed to pay back $8.3 million in loans. Rabobank sued Triple V Dairy in Fresno County Superior Court in November 2017, and the dairy was set to be auctioned off to repay the money. Valadao blamed “burdensome government regulations” in statements to the media.

Valadao and his wife filed for bankruptcy protection for their dairy and cattle businesses in March, citing $13 million in business debts. They listed four legal actions pending against their businesses, including the Rabobank suit. Valadao’s farms were his only source of income besides his position as a congressman, according to his most recent financial disclosure.

Cox’s team referred a request for comment to Andy Orellana, spokesman for the DCCC, who went after Valadao on his record of voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement that would guarantee coverage for preexisting conditions. Health care was the most prominent issue in Cox’s 2018 campaign.

“Working families sent Valadao packing because they won’t tolerate a D.C. insider who will prioritize Washington special interests over combating the rise in prescription drug cost, investing in needed infrastructure and bringing clean drinking water to all corners of the Central Valley,” Orellana said. “Apparently, former member of Congress David Valadao didn’t get the message, but you can be sure voters in California’s 21st District will reject the morally bankrupt (President Donald) Trump-Valadao agenda again in 2020.”

Political operatives on both sides have wondered for months if Valadao would run again. Cox has raised about $700,000 so far this year and has just under $500,000 in cash on hand, according to FEC records.

Valadao listed about $64,000 in cash on hand in his new filing.

The NRCC had been pushing to get Valadao in the race, even running a poll in the district pitting Valadao against Cox before Valadao filed his candidacy.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville, said he was glad to see his former colleague try to get his seat back, saying the 2018 blue wave and the new “ballot harvesting” laws – a term for a legal practice in California that involves delivering someone else’s filled-out ballot – combined for Valadao’s defeat.

“I think the last election was an anomaly,” LaMalfa said. “Every election is going to look a little bit different, now you’ve got the presidential, and how is Trump going to do in California with whoever the Democrats put up.”