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The Valley’s comeback kid: Valadao turned back Blue Wave to recapture House seat

Jan. 1, 2021: As he’s set to return to Washington for the fourth time in five terms, Congressman David Valadao’s (R–Hanford) victory over outgoing Rep. TJ Cox (D–Fresno) didn’t happen overnight.

Groundwork for the Hanford dairyman’s return to the Capitol was set into motion months after Cox joined a half-dozen other California Democrats in winning a bevy of House races in 2018.

Two years, millions of dollars in television ads, and a back-and-forth flurry of scathing barbs later, Valadao is set to take the oath of office and serve his fourth term in the House of Representatives.

That is: after doctors clear him from a recent COVID-19 positivity, meaning he likely won’t make it to the oath ceremony in a few days.

There are some unique elements underlying of Valadao’s fourth term in the lower chamber of Congress.

First, the Hanford native, unlike his neighboring colleagues, has never served as a member of the minority party in the House.

Second, during his two year absence from Congress, the Trump administration delivered sweeping reforms to California and San Joaquin Valley water policy – Valadao’s highest priority during his first tenure – to benefit the disadvantaged communities and farmers of his district.

While those reforms undergo a myriad of legal battles, largely waged by environmental lobbies and California regulators, it will undoubtedly shift the focus of water efforts to issues needing further assistance – such as restoring the capacity of the Friant-Kern Canal.

And lastly, local and Washington Democrats again frustrated at his ability to defeat highly-prized recruits have stepped up their efforts to challenge him in 2022 by announcing campaigns before Valadao takes the oath and new district lines – decided by California’s citizen redistricting panel – are drawn.

With election certified, Cox concedes race to Valadao

Dec. 4, 2020, 1:59 p.m.: With all four of its counties having certified election results for the 2020 general election, Rep. TJ Cox (D–Fresno) publicly admitted the reality of the situation.

Two years after upsetting three-term Republican Rep. David Valadao, voters handed him the walking papers.

The Valadao campaign confirmed that Cox contacted the Congressman-Elect to formally concede the race.

Cox issued a statement devoid of congratulations to his predecessor and now-successor. He blamed his loss on the inability to canvas voters door-to-door.

Almost three years ago, I entered the race for California’s 21st District as an underdog. But we out-worked our opponent and pulled off the most stunning upset in Central Valley history.

Unfortunately, this year due to the Coronavirus, we weren’t able to engage in door-to-door personal canvassing and the election results reflected that.

Turkey Day behind, Associated Press projects Valadao victory

Nov. 29, 2020, 5:30 p.m.: The Thanksgiving holiday gave former – and now soon-to-be – Congressman David Valadao (R–Hanford) plenty of reasons to be thankful.

Amid the Black Friday flurry, the Associated Press joined The San Joaquin Valley Sun, Washington Post, and Decision Desk HQ in calling the 21st Congressional race as a comeback victory for Valadao over Cox.

In a Thanksgiving missive, Cox refused to except the inevitable outcome – sticking to a tried-and-true “every vote must count” message.

“2018 taught us it’s not over until every vote is counted,” Cox said. “Taking that lesson to heart, I do not plan to make a statement on the outcome of the election until every vote is counted and we have the final results, certified by all four counties in this district.”

However, following the race call by the Associated Press, the Cox campaign contacted volunteers announcing they would no longer require their services to phone bank to “cure” vote-by-mail ballots that had incorrect or unverifiable signatures.

“Due to the math not looking like it is in our favor and because the AP has called the race for Valadao, we are cancelling all volunteer shifts this weekend to be respectful of your time,” the email read.

Sunday, Fresno County became the first of four counties to certify the results of the 2020 election.

Valadao declares victory over Cox

Nov. 25, 2020, 8:47 p.m.: Former Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) has a new title: Congressman-Elect.

The three-term Republican Congressman declared victory over his successor, Rep. TJ Cox (D–Fresno) following sizable updates and straining mathematical possibility that Cox could overtake him.

Valadao issued the following statement:

I’m once again overwhelmed by the Central Valley’s support and faith in me.

To everyone who fueled this campaign putting in long hours making phone calls, knocking doors and believing in this cause   – thank you! I could not have done it without you. I commend TJ Cox for running a strong campaign and thank him for his service in Congress.

To the election workers in Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties – I appreciate your hard work over the past three weeks to make sure that every vote was counted fairly and accurately.

To all those who voted for me and those who didn’t – I will be a representative here to serve and fight for every resident of the Central Valley with an open door no matter your background.

This Thanksgiving, as the coronavirus continues to spread and our community and nation struggle, we desperately need relief. The only way we will get through this is by sticking together as Americans, not divided by political parties. When I head back to Washington every resident of the Central Valley has my word that I will continue to always put this community first.

I will not stop fighting to support families in the Central Valley fighting to bring more water to our communities, passing a COVID-relief package that will bring much needed help to frontline workers and small businesses, working to improve our healthcare system so that everyone can get the care they need when they need it most.

Valadao likely puts 21st Congressional seat out of reach for Cox comeback

Nov. 25, 2020, 8:19 p.m.: Updates in Tulare, Kings, and Kern counties have left the hotly-contested 21st Congressional district waiting on a tranche of roughly 4,500 ballots remaining in Democrat-heavy Kern.

Currently, former Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) holds a 1,754 vote lead over Rep. TJ Cox (D–Fresno) two years removed from a razor-thing 862-vote defeat amid the 2018 “Blue Wave.”

The Sun projected that Valadao would defeat Cox last Friday based on projected ballots remaining in Kings and Kern counties.

The Thanksgiving Eve updates from Tulare and Kings have largely closed out their outstanding ballots. Tulare County reported having no additional ballots to process. Kings, elections officials told The Sun, had 17 ballots requiring further review or in need of curing by the voter to be counted.

If current vote share continues in Kern County, the 21st Congressional District would have an estimated 1,125 ballots remaining. As California Target Book’s Rob Pyers joked, such a vote share would require Cox to win an impossible 125 percent of the outstanding vote.

Following the Kings update, elections tracking website Decision Desk HQ called the race for Valadao.

Sources tell The Sun that a race call from the Associated Press projecting Valadao as the winner of the contest is forthcoming.

Awaiting race-closing Kern Co. update, Cox begins raising funds for “debt relief”

Nov. 25, 2020, 11:54 a.m.: Kern County Elections officials are expected to deliver an update that consists of an overwhelming majority of their 11,000 outstanding provisional ballots on Wednesday afternoon.

For Rep. TJ Cox (D–Fresno) the update spells likely foreclosure on a race already called by The San Joaquin Valley Sun and The Washington Post as a victory by his predecessor, former Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford).

That said, Cox is still raising money as the Democratic stronghold county concludes its ballot counting.

A new ActBlue fundraising page launched by Cox’s campaign is raising funds to “cover campaign costs as we fight to make sure every last ballot is counted.”

The page itself, however, is titled “Debt Relief.”

The San Joaquin Valley Sun called the race for Valadao following a sizable update of provisional ballots wherein Cox failed to gain any momentum to shift the balance of Valadao’s now-1,800 vote lead.

Kings Co. restarts ballot counting, boosts Valadao lead

Nov. 22, 2020, 6:01 p.m.: After suspending ballot counting operations due to coronavirus exposure and a Saturday morning power outage at the Kings County Government Center, elections officials began the process of tabulating results from more than 1,500 provisional and vote-by-mail ballots.

An initial batch of 352 were processed on Sunday, with former Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) capturing more than 61 percent of them.

The split increased Valadao’s lead over Rep. TJ Cox (D–Fresno) by 101 votes, to 1,719 votes.

Sun Projection: Valadao to defeat Cox in 21st Congressional District battle

Nov. 20, 2020, 4:21 p.m.: With an update of 11,472 provisional ballots breaking 53.67 percent for Rep. TJ Cox (D–Fresno) and putting an insufficient dent into his deficit, The San Joaquin Valley Sun is projecting that former Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) will reclaim his seat in Congress.

Current estimates for remaining uncounted ballots in Kern County – the bluest portion of the south Valley district – sit in the 8,000 ballot range, requiring Cox to win more than 80 percent of remaining ballots.

Also outstanding are 1,529 ballots in the heavily-Republican Kings County, which suspended its ballot processing operations due to a COVID-19 outbreak. That county is set to resume ballot processing on Saturday.

Valadao, a three-term Congressman representing the southern San Joaquin Valley, was defeated by Cox during the 2018 Blue Wave. Other than legal challenges, the 21st Congressional battle was the final race to be decided by a razor-thin 862 votes.

This story will be updated.

Villapudua strikes unusual comeback over San Joaquin Supervisor Miller for open north Valley Assembly seat

Nov. 18, 2020, 5:05 p.m.: Carlos Villapudua couldn’t have imagined a more unusual way to win an election.

With the big bucks of the California Teachers Association and endorsement of high-profile local Democrats, Villapudua was considered an all-but-certain member of the State Assembly for San Joaquin County.

Then came early election results, handing a comfortable lead to his opponent – current San Joaquin County Supervisor Kathy Miller.

The trend continued for more than a week, prompting Miller to clean out her Supervisorial office in anticipation of a victory, sources with knowledge told The Sun.

Then the numbers flipped.

Monday, Villapudua slingshotted ahead of Miller, posting a 3,700-vote lead. Following updates on Tuesday, Villapudua’s lead maintained at the same spread.

Wednesday, Miller conceded the race to Villapudua. In an email to supporters, Miller called for reconciliation with Villapudua and his supporters.

“I will do everything I can to ensure Assemblymember-elect Villapudua has the support and partnership he needs as we work together to defeat the pandemic, address homelessness, protect our water, and ensure our families can thrive,” Miller wrote.

In a statement to The Sun, Villapudua was jubilated at the victory.

“We’re extremely happy with the numbers in our race. We worked hard from day one to earn the opportunity to represent the people of the 13th Assembly District,” he said. “We also want to thank Supervisor Miller for her words of congratulations and support in her concession statement. Right now we’re looking forward to the few remaining votes being counted and to the election being certified, so we can get to work for the people of San Joaquin County.”

Valadao, Cox gets down to the wire as Fresno County wraps up bulk of counting

Nov. 18, 3:05 p.m.: The tightly-wound rematch between Rep. TJ Cox (D–Fresno) and former Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) is heading into the home stretch.

Tuesday, Kern County finished counting its vote-by-mail ballots, excluding those requiring voters to cure their signatures, and began tackling its tens of thousands of provisional ballots.

In that update, Cox managed to secure only 56.2 percent of the 2,088 ballots released, chipping Valadao’s lead to 1,805 votes.

Wednesday, Fresno County completed counting nearly all of its ballots – save for uncured vote-by-mail ballots and any that are postmarked Nov. 3 and still navigating the postal system.

Fresno County’s update added 529 votes to the contest, with Cox narrowly edging Valadao for the first time in the northernmost county of the district. The update cut Valadao’s lead down by nine votes to 1,796.

While Kings County elections officials awaits to restart ballot counting on Saturday – delayed due to a COVID-19 exposure – much of the focus remains on Kern County’s provisional ballots.

Unlike past elections, Kern County’s provisional ballots offer potentially unique wrinkles to the 21st Congressional district contest. Here’s a thread from Twitter explaining why:

Upset complete: Stockton Mayor Tubbs concedes to Republican upstart Lincoln

Nov. 17, 2020, 9:17 p.m.: In spite of a dizzying array of national attention, Mayor Michael Tubbs’ progressive vision for the City of Stockton could not compete with voters’ appetite for change.

Tuesday, trailing by more than 10 points to Republican Kevin Lincoln, Tubbs conceded the race to Lincoln.

In a statement released by his campaign, Tubbs detailed a number of policy accomplishments before briefly congratulating Lincoln on his victory.

“”He will need all of our support as we still have issues of poverty, education, health, and especially COVID-19 that must be addressed,” Tubbs wrote.

In a victory message, Lincoln thanked supporters for their work to reach an electoral win and addressed the city’s future.

“Our campaign was based on unifying Stockton, ensuring everyone has a seat at the table, no one is left out,” Lincoln wrote. “Our city is exceptional and I am proud to have the opportunity to be your mayor.”

Sizable update in Kern Co. trims Valadao’s lead over Cox

Nov. 12, 2020, 12:15 p.m.: With all eyes focused on Kern County to decide the hotly-contested 21st Congressional district, the oft-slow counting county delivered unexpected news on Thursday.

After holding more than 123,000 ballots after its Tuesday update, the county managed to process more than 76,890 over the Veteran’s Day holiday, releasing results this morning.

Former Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) currently holds a 2,356 vote edge over his successor, Rep. TJ Cox (D–Fresno).

The results certainly served as a best case scenario for the Hanford dairyman on two fronts.

First, the ballots accounted for a smaller share than many had expected. Only 15 percent – or 11,578 votes – fell within the confines of the 21st district.

Second, Cox only captured 57.2 percent of the vote in this sizable update from his key stronghold.

While a considerable number of ballots – 46,899 – remain in Kern County, the path for Cox to claim his first lead of the election are pinned on a combination of the 21st pulling in a much larger number of votes and winning a greater share of those votes.

As California Target Book’s Rob Pyers writes, if the 21st district’s share of votes remains small, Cox would need to exceed his performance in prior updates.

A tiny, 70-vote update out of Tulare County broke 58.6 percent for Valadao, edging his lead up by 12 votes to 2,368.

The next major scheduled update for the district comes via Fresno County on Friday afternoon.

Fresno County currently has roughly 9,300 ballots remaining countywide.

At 42 years old, Calif.’s tax revolt is thriving amid defeat of Prop. 15

Nov. 11, 2020, 9:15 a.m.: Proposition 15, a $140 million campaign aimed at raising California property taxes on commercial properties, officially failed on Tuesday.

California business leaders celebrated a holding of the line for the long-venerated 1978-approved Proposition 13, which capped property taxes for all properties at 1 percent of its assessed value at purchase.

Prop. 15 sought to partially repeal Prop. 13 by reassessing commercial and industrial properties that are valued at over $3 million at their current market value rate.

Though it exempted agricultural land, opponents noted that the measure would have triggered annual tax reassessments at market value for agricultural improvements such as barns, dairies, wineries, processing plants, vineyards and orchards.

During a Wednesday press conference, opponents of Prop. 15 celebrated the victory in spite of what they perceived as a misleading ballot title and summary from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

“People are not prepared to raise taxes and those who knew [Prop. 15] was a tax increase were more strongly opposed to a tax increase,” CalChamber chief Allen Zaremberg said during a Wednesday press conference.

Valadao maintains lead over Cox as Kern Co. arrives

Nov. 10, 2020, 6:05 p.m.: With three of its four counties reporting updated vote totals on Tuesday, former Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) continues to hold a 3-point lead.

The buoyed lead comes amid a tranche of 5,552 votes from a total of 19,531 ballots doled out by Kern County on Tuesday.

While Valadao won a vote update in Fresno County on Tuesday, he formally lost his lead in Tulare County.

The 21st Congressional district takes in southeastern Tulare County and comprises slightly more than 4 percent of the district’s total voter registration.

Of the four counties, Kern County has found itself as the slowest to get results out. Based on current figures, an estimated 123,789 ballots remain to-be-counted countywide.

Cox-Valadao shaping up to be last-called House race in the U.S. (again)

Nov. 10, 2020, 5:50 p.m: Despite slow-paced Kern County elections officials working through Veteran’s Day on Wednesday, observers hoping for a quick result in the 21st Congressional District are set to be sorely disappointed.

Amid a bevy of vote updates across the Valley floor, officials with the Kings County Elections Department announced they would be suspending vote counting operations due to COVID-19 exposure.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Kings County announced its canvassing of ballots would pick up on Saturday, Nov. 21.

Currently, the county has an estimated 1,529 ballots left to be processed. All of those ballots fall within the confines of the 21st Congressional District.

Stockton’s Tubbs, trailing novice GOPer, pins re-elect hopes on late ballots

Nov. 9, 2020, 4:58 p.m.: Michael Tubbs, the incumbent Mayor of Stockton and young gun of the state’s Democratic Party, is currently trailing a Republican challenger in his first re-election.

It’s an odd position for Tubbs, whose charismatic rise to power landed him countless magazine spreads and an HBO documentary.

Ever since his 2012 election to the Stockton City Council, Tubbs has steadily increased his profile nationally in the past eight years.

He’s oft-been named among a handful of California Democrats with a bright future in statewide or national politics due to his work in Stockton, including the private-public partnership to fund a universal basic income program and the implementation of Advance Peace.

A Los Angeles Times profile pointed the finger over Tubbs’ potential demise at 209 Times, a local social media-led news outlet that has become a formidable digital foe to Tubbs that has driven up a negative perception in the community.

Others point to Tubbs’ relative disinterest in Stockton affairs amid the national attention.

Stockton, with 51 percent Democratic voter registration, has had its Mayorship flip three times between the two major parties among the past six mayors.

Currently, Tubbs trails Republican novice Kevin Lincoln by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

San Joaquin County reports having more than 93,000 ballots remaining to be counted.

Campaign Manager: Arballo reverses stance, concedes

Nov. 4, 2020, 6:49 p.m.: Fresno congressional candidate Phil Arballo has reversed his stance on his position in the 22nd Congressional District battle with Rep. Devin Nunes (R–Tulare).

Shortly after holding a press conference Wednesday afternoon and defying calls to concede the race to Nunes after the Associated Press called the race for the nine-term Republican, Arballo’s campaign tendered a terse endorsement.

“Following his remarks this afternoon, Phil had further deliberations with his family and is conceding the race,” campaign manager Andrew Feldman said in a statement to GVWire. “Again, he believes the race will tighten, but that we will come up short.”

Looming over Cox-Valadao clash? Hefty outstanding ballots in Kern County.

Nov. 4, 2020, 6:15 p.m.: As former Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) holds a 2.76 percent lead over Rep. TJ Cox (D–Fresno), the battle for the 21st Congressional district has shifted to a game of electoral math over outstanding ballots.

Wednesday, Kern County officials announced there were an estimated 100,000 ballots to be counted with a sizable share – 30,000 to 40,000 being cast provisionally.

That is provisional count is an unusually high figure.

The reason? Unlike most counties in the region, Kern County required voters who visited a polling place to surrender their mail-in ballot prior to voting.

Those who didn’t or were unable to surrender their ballot were forced to vote provisionally.

From a math standpoint, that means a hefty amount – estimated anywhere between 24,000 and 30,000 of outstanding Kern ballots – could originate from the 21st Congressional district.

From a voter make-up standpoint, Kern County’s provisional ballot dilemma points to a more pronounced inverted effect on the progression of election results.

Conventional wisdom in California elections follows that late ballots – especially provisional ballots – trend toward Democratic candidates.

However, with Republicans across the Valley, state, and nation turning out on Election Day in unprecedented rates, it is likely that the provisional vote in Kern County will lean heavily Republican.

Nunes captures 10th term on strong Election night tailwinds

Nov. 4, 2020, 3:00 p.m.: Devin Nunes, the Tulare farmer and longtime Republican Congressman, will sit for his tenth term in the House of Representatives after clearing sufficient votes to defeat Fresno native Phil Arballo.

Nunes started the race with an odd deficit, owing to an early influx of Demoratic absentee ballots being counted in Fresno and Tulare counties. By the end of Tuesday, Nunes had recaptured a lead over Arballo.

Currently, Nunes is on-pace to likely double the point spread from 2018 – increasing it from 5.4 percentage points against Fresno prosecutor Andrew Janz to more than 10 against Arballo.

At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Arballo declined to concede to the longtime Congressman.

“We still have to wait for every vote to be counted. We expect this race to tighten,” Arballo said. “We know it’s an uphill battle … but sometimes the AP does it get it wrong, as they did a couple of years ago in a neighboring congressional district.”

Welcome to Election Month

Nov. 3, 2020, 2:35 p.m.: Courtesy of absentee balloting and lengthy return deadlines, the days of the single-night blitz are long behind us.

Instead, we’re entering Election Month.

So what do we have to expect tonight on the local level? Much of the garden path to tonight’s statistics convention begins with absentee ballot returns.

As local elections officials have received ballots, they have opened envelopes, qualified voter signatures, and processed the ballots through machines.

This process is the initial stage of tabulation of results, though they won’t be fully tabulated until 8 p.m. tonight.

County clerks in most Valley counties have remained tight-lipped about how delayed they are when it comes to processing absentee ballots.

That means the initial release of ballot figures – both across the Valley and Golden State – will feature a likely heavy Democratic tilt, given the barrage of Democratic ballots returned early.

However, further voter numbers will likely demonstrate the anticipated heavy turnout of Republicans at vote centers and polling places beginning Saturday through Tuesday night.

As has become a key factor in major Valley races – such as the battle between Rep. TJ Cox (D–Fresno) and former Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) in 2018 – late absentee ballots proved to be decisive, as Cox took a heavy portion of those ballots en route to a 862-vote victory.

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.