Early returns have Valadao knocking on the door of fifth term in $34mil battle with Salas

Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) has an early, sizable lead in his reelection bid. But, if history is any guide, nothing is predictable when there are likely tens of thousands of votes to be counted across the three-county district.

Valadao’s lead, which sits at 54 to 46 percent over Asm. Rudy Salas (D–Bakersfield) as of Wednesday afternoon, is a similar story to his past elections.

Four years ago Valadao held an eight point lead on election night, only for that margin to close day-by-day over the following weeks as ballots continued to arrive that favored Cox.

Cox won by less than 1,000 votes, and its leaving watchers on both sides of the aisle holding their breath on results out of the southern San Joaquin.

Valadao currently leads by nearly 3,400 votes of the more than 42,000 votes counted so far. Four years ago there were over 110,000 votes cast, and two years ago – which Valadao won – there were over 170,000 total votes.

Whatever the voter turnout in Kern County ends up as will likely be the difference in the race, given the heavy Democratic presence in the 22nd District portion of the Golden Empire.

So far Kern County has only reported about 20,000 votes. There was twice that amount in 2018 and three times that in 2020.

As one of the most expensive races in the nation, more than $34 million was spent between the two candidates and their respective parties.

Valadao’s camp, unsurprisingly, was cautiously optimistic about the first batch of votes.

“We always knew this race was going to be tight, Valadao campaign spokesman Andrew Renteria told The Sun on Wednesday. “I’m optimistic about our start, but we still have a long way to go.”

Salas’s campaign did not return a request for comment.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.