Following back-to-back elections with roaring interest and soaring turnout of voters, the Golden State is headed into a doldrums with Tuesday’s June Primary.
It’s not hard to understand why.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, after successfully fending off a recall effort in 2021, faces nominal opposition from a lengthy-list of contenders.
Despite the lack of buzz in statewide races, there’s plenty on-the-line further down the ticket in Tuesday’s June Primary.
- California’s 13th Congressional District – The 13th Congressional District is a northern San Joaquin Valley seat that turned unexpectedly competitive amid a domino effect of retirements.
Originally slated to be the home-base for two-term Rep. Josh Harder (D–Turlock), Harder announced he was departing for the far safer (and bluer) 9th Congressional District, anchored by Stockton, when Rep. Jerry McNerney (D–Stockton) announced his retirement following redistricting.
Now, the Stanislaus County-anchored 13th is serving as a major battleground in California for control of the House. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–Bakersfield) has solidly thrown his backing behind Modesto nursery owner John Duarte.
Meanwhile, California’s Democratic Party has fallen behind Asm. Adam Gray (D–Merced), a notorious party-bucking Blue Dog Democrat in Sacramento.
Despite party support, the two haven’t been immune from challenges within their own tent.
Gray has come under assault by Phil Arballo (D–Fresno) for his perceived ideological impurities during his stint in the state Capitol.
And Duarte has had to quickly outmaneuver David Giglio (R–Madera), a candidate who jumped into a Congressional run almost one year before Congressional lines were finalized.
- California’s 5th Congressional District – The Valley, in one way or another, is getting a fresh face in representing its interests in Congress. But it may just be a familiar name: Rep. Tom McClintock (R–Elk Grove).
McClintock, who saw his lengthy legislative career shift from Ventura County to the suburbs of Sacramento in 2008, has represented the Sierra foothills for 14 years in Congress.
Now, he’s hoping to keep hold of a seat that is increasingly Valley-anchored, with Stanislaus County being the largest-single county in the district (comprising 38 percent of registered voters).
McClintock’s 2022 (and future in Congress) hinges on one question: will Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig make it into the top two spots?
Magsig, a fellow Republican who launched a bid to run for Congress in the expiring 22nd Congressional District to succeed Rep. Devin Nunes (R–Tulare) opted to shift gears and challenge McClintock in January for the Valley-Sierra hybrid district.
In the process, he’s managed to pickoff support of local leaders in the Stanislaus County along with Gold Country communities.
Standing in the Fresno County native’s way? Three other Republicans who filed to run and a single Democrat, perennial candidate Mike Barkley (D–Manteca).
- California’s 22nd Congressional District – Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) is facing arguably his strangest re-election campaign in his 12-year political career.
After redistricting turned this south Valley seat even more Democratic than Valadao’s expiring 21st district, the Hanford dairyman faces a different kind of anomaly: Republican primary opponents.
Former Fresno City Councilmember Chris Mathys (R–Firebaugh) and Kings County Board of Education Trustee Adam Mederios (R–Hanford) are hoping to exact some revenge after Valadao voted to impeach former President Donald Trump.
Mathys, in particular, has attracted some attention – and dollars – from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Super PACs hoping to muddy Valadao’s prospects in November.
The biggest surprise? The general lack of interest to exact revenge by Trump himself.
Meanwhile, Democrats secured the recruit sought for many election cycles – Asm. Rudy Salas (D–Bakersfield) – to challenge Valadao.
Despite that, Salas has faced a bumpier primary season than expected.
- 27th Assembly District (Dist. 4) – The domino effect created by Rep. Josh Harder’s move to the 9th Congressional district reached all the way to the California State Assembly.
The seat, likely to be held by Asm. Adam Gray (D–Merced) is now up for grabs and has turned into a proxy fight between two Democratic Fresno City Councilmembers – Esmeralda Soria and Mike Karbassi.
Soria entered the race with heavy backing from California’s Latino Legislative Caucus, Moderate Democrats Caucus, and won the endorsement of the California Democratic Party. Karbassi has run a more insurgent campaign ahead of the primary.
The pair exchanged scorching-hot barbs in mailers to voters in recent weeks attacking their office expenditures, consultant hirings, and policy accomplishments on critical issues such as homelessness and police.
Meanwhile, on the right, California Republicans have largely coalesced around former Mark Pazin, a former Merced County Sheriff and Law Enforcement Chief for California’s Office of Emergency Services.
But that hasn’t stopped Firebaugh native and farm supply businesswoman Amanda Fleming from attempting to knock him out of the top two.
County Supervisor & Executive Offices
- Fresno County Supervisor (Dist. 4) – Two-term Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes faces a two-man challenge on the ballot.
On one hand, a well-financed, six-figure effort by Jose Antonio Ramirez, the former city manager of Orange Cove and Livingston, who has captured support from wide swaths of the local Democratic Party – including Asm. Joaquin Arambula (D–Fresno).
On the other, a repeat foe for Mendes: Fowler Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Parra. Parra and Mendes duked it out in 2014 when the two were vying to succeed Judy Case McNairy. Mendes bested Parra in a general election battle after narrowly missing an outright win in the June 2014 primary.
- Madera County Supervisor (Dists. 1 and 5) – Two longtime incumbents on the Madera County Board of Supervisors are hitting the exits. Supervisor Tom Wheeler, who represents much of the foothills of Madera County, announced last July he would be retiring at the conclusion of his term in 2022.
Meanwhile, Supervisor Brett Frazier, whose district encompasses Madera County’s immediate future via growing housing developments in Riverstone and the Madera Ranchos, announced he would depart the panel to run for Assessor.
In their wake, competitive races have emerged with major implications for a booming county.
In District 1 (southern Madera County), a three-way race for Supervisor between realtor Michele Stephens, police officer Jordan Wamhoff, and Golden Valley Trustee Andy Wheeler is likely headed for a run-off in November.
In District 5 (Sierra foothills), Bobby Macaulay, chief of staff to outgoing Supervisor Tom Wheeler, faces off against businessman Mark Reed, and rancher Beau Campbell, Jr.
- Kings County Supervisor (Dist. 4) – A challenge to longtime Supervisor Joe Neves has become less of a referendum on the incumbent and more as a proxy war over Kings County’s water supplies.
Neves faces a well-funded, aggressive campaign by Stratford Public Utilities District trustee Martin Chavez. Chavez’s campaign has seen eye-popping campaign support from Bay Area water giant John Vidovich.
Vidovich is in the midst of a major fight with local water agencies over the construction of a massive, sprawling pipeline network in southern Kings County.
- Kings County District Attorney – In a region where virtually every race to serve as District Attorney is a snoozer, Kings County is providing more than enough drama to make up for it.
Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes faces a well-funded challenge from litigator and former prosecutor Sarah Hacker. Last year, Fagundes faced explosive claims that he sexually harassed his senior-most investigator
Hacker has seized on the sexual harassment issue, along with other claims – from alleged preferential treatment for clients of his personal lawyers to claims of misuse of taxpayer funds.
Meanwhile, the race has attracted attention from major California publications owing to Fagundes’ on-going feud with Attorney General Rob Bonta over his policy of prosecuting drug-abusing women for murder in cases where their pregnancies result in stillbirths due to drug use.
Fagundes, for his part, has strenuously defended his record on being a tough-on-crime District Attorney and honed attacks on Hacker over her willingness to follow Bonta’s direction to avoid stillbirth prosecutions.
- Kern County Supervisor (Dist. 3) – Much like Madera County, a changing-of-the-guard is underway in the Golden Empire.
Mike Maggard, a 16-year veteran of the Kern County Board of Supervisors, announced his retirement last November and endorsed his chief of staff, Jeff Flores.
The race became a bit more heated than expected, attracting the attention and involvement of even House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–Bakersfield) for one reason: the entrance of Louis Gill.
Gill, the longtime chief executive of Kern County’s largest homeless agency, launched a challenge to McCarthy in the 2022 primary before dropping out and announcing a bid for Supervisor.
- Fresno City Council (Dist. 1) – In an otherwise quiet election season, the sole open seat on Fresno’s City Council has attracted plenty of eyeballs and attention.
A field of four are hoping to succeed termed-out Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria: former Fresno City Councilman and Assemblyman Mike Briggs, advertising consultant Cary Catalano, State Center Community College Trustee Annalisa Perea, and businessman Jeremy Preis.
Perea and Catalano have attracted an outsized amount of attention in the race, owing to the war chests they’ve amassed in the 18 months they’ve been running for the job.
Between the two, Perea has held a distinct edge in the fundraising arms race.
The looming question here: Could a single candidate win outright or are we headed for a long summer battle?