Congratulations, TJ Cox, House Democratic Flip #40! November 28, 2018
Even when one party has a “humungous” victory, the opposition’s path to future wins is sometimes visible in the political rubble. Although LBJ clobbered Barry Goldwater in 1964 CA, GOP analysts noticed that Goldwater did well in vote -rich Southern California, where he carried Orange and San Diego Counties. Former GOP actor George Murphy also then won a Senate seat in CA, beating former JFK press secretary Pierre Salinger. In 1966, Ronald Reagan, also a former actor, was able to use this GOP Southern Calif. base to handily win the governorship against Pat Brown, then running for a third term. In 1988, although Dem. Michael Dukakis was easily defeated by George H.W. Bush, Democrats noticed that Dukakis had carried several states in the upper Midwest as well as the West Coast states of OR and WA. H.W. had also barely won CA. When Bill Clinton ran in 1992, he made sure to hold these “Dukakis States” as well as grabbing CA and other New England states where H.W.’s lead was not that commanding to reach his winning electoral coalition.
Fast forward to 2016. Hillary Clinton defeated Demagogue Donald by over four million votes in the Golden State (nytimes.com/elections, 8/01/17). She also carried seven CA congressional districts, five in Southern CA and two in that state’s agricultural Central Valley, even though the GOP Congressmembers in those districts won re-election. In order to recapture the House in 2018, Democrats started targeting the GOP Congressmembers in the seven Hillary-carried districts immediately after the 2016 election. The result? After the 11/06/ 2018 midterm, Democrats flipped all those seven Hillary districts “Blue.” These included four districts in former GOP bastion Orange County, turning the OC entirely “Blue,” one in northern LA County, and two in the Central Valley. With the votes in the final national congressional race almost tallied, Democrat TJ Cox has defeated Central Valley GOP incumbent Congressman David Valadao. With Cox’s win, Democrats now control 46 of CA’s 53 House seats. They have left the CA GOP with the smallest share of the state’s delegation in well over half a century (See LA Times, Barabak & Sweedler, 11/26/2018). Nationally, Democrats have now flipped 40 “Red” seats “Blue,” a very comfortable House margin (they needed to flip a net 23 seats to take back the House). This 40 seat nationwide Democratic flip is the most for “Team Blue” since Nixon’s 1974 resignation after the Watergate scandal (latimes.com, Barabak, 11/28/18). Let’s look at the Cox-Valadao contest.
In the 11/06/2018 election, 41-year old GOP Congressman David Valadao (val-a-DAY-oh) was running for his fourth term in CA’s 21st Congressional District (CD). The Golden State 21st is located in the southern part of CA’s inland San Joaquin Central Valley. The mostly rural 21st takes in portions of Fresno, Kern, and Tulare Counties, as well as all of Kings County (CQ & Barone 14 Political Almanacs, latimes.com, Barabak & Sweedler, 11/26/18). The 21st extends north to the Fresno city limits and snakes around Kern County’s Bakersfield in the south, taking in that city’s southeast side and nearby communities. The cities of Hanford and Delano, site of Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers’ headquarters, are part of the 21st. The 21st includes Selma, Wasco, and Kingsburg. There is a Naval Air Station in Lemoore that houses the Strike Fighter Wing of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Agriculture fuels the 21st’s economy. Farms produce fruits, vegetables, nuts, cotton, and dairy. Food-processing plants and canneries are found in the 21st’s cities and towns. Selma, south of Fresno, claims to be the world’s raisin capital. Sun-Maid Growers has its headquarters in Kingsburg.
The 21st CD has the second-highest percentage of Hispanics statewide, and includes a significant portion of Hmong. Registered Dems outnumber GOPers by about 15 points. Obama won the 21st in both 2008 and 2012 and Hillary clobbered Donald here by a 15.5% margin (CA Statewide Results). However, Kings County is reliably GOP and the loss of urban parts of Fresno in the latest redistricting made the 21st more competitive. This rural area has very low Hispanic turnout and, as a result, this district is politically marginal. In 2017, the Cook Partisan Voting Index, PVI, gave the 21st CD a D+5 score, but in 2018 gave it an EVEN rating. Elections in the 21st CD, where few voters pay much attention to candidates not running for President, can, therefore, be competitive.
Born and raised in Hanford, CA, David Valadao is the son of Portuguese Azorean Island immigrants. In CA, his father established a dairy farm where his son David worked. Valadao attended Visalia’s College of the Sequoias as a part-time student from 1996-1998 but did not graduate (bioguide.congress.gov, theatalantic.com, 11/06/12). He was a partner with his brother in the Valadao Dairy. Valadao decided to get politically involved after he was elected regional leadership council chairman of the Land O’ Lakes agricultural cooperative and addressed elected officials in Sacramento and D.C. on dairy issues. He saw how government and policies “affected our lives.” In 2010, Valadao won election to the CA Assembly. Valadao was always a GOPer (Barone 14, ourcampaigns.com, 11/02/10, Wenner, Bakersfield.com, 11/03/11). In 2012, Valadao ran for the newly redistricted 21st CD. He won his primary and in the 2012 general election defeated his Hispanic opponent by 16 points. In 2014, he coasted to re-election (2012, ourcampaigns.com, 2014, web.archive.org). In 2016, while Hillary took the 21st by over 15 points, Valadao won by over 13 points (2016, elections.cdn.sos.ca.gov, CA Statewide Results).
In the House, Valadao belonged to the moderate Main Street Partnership (CQ14), but like other GOPers who call themselves “moderates,” he is, IMHO, a MINO, a “Moderate in Name Only.” According to a 2016 Vote Smart analysis, “moderate” Valadao is pro-life and anti-gun control. He opposes income tax increases and the federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. He opposes same sex-marriage and supports increased intervention in Iraq and Syria beyond air support. He has from the get-go been for repealing Obamacare. He voted for GOP Cong. Tom MacArthur’s repeal Obamacare Act in 5/2017 that, fortunately, was narrowly defeated in the Senate in 7/2017 (votesmart.org, washingtonpost.com, usatoday.com, vox.com, 7/28/18, Campbell, A.). “Moderate” Valadao was one of the first GOP supporters of Donald’s candidacy. He supported Donald from 10/2015-5/2016, but temporarily rescinded his support in 6/2016, saying he couldn’t support a candidate who “denigrates people based on their ethnicity, religion or disabilities (fresnobee.com, Razi).” This stance gave him “moderate” cover in his district. However, Valadao voted in 2/2017 against a resolution that would have directed the House to request ten years of Trump’s tax returns (indy.100., 2/28/17). FiveThirtyEight found that as of 9/2018, Valadao had voted in line with Trump’s positions 99% of the time, and was the most partisan Trump supporter in the House when compared to his district’s voting patterns (projects.fivethirtyeight.com). In 12/2017, Valadao voted for the top 1% tax cut in a district that has one of the highest poverty rates in CA (See CQ 14, fresnobee.com).
In Campaign 2018, Valadao squared off against Democrat TJ Cox. Born in Walnut Creek, CA, Cox (55) is the son of immigrant parents. His father is of mixed Chinese and European ancestry who came to the U.S. from China. Cox’s mother was a native of the Philippines who also immigrated here (balitangamerica.tv/meet, asianjournal.com, 8/05/18). Trained as an engineer, Cox built dams and water conveyance systems and knows how to deliver and conserve water, a key issue in the Central Valley. Cox became a local business owner who founded two nut-processing companies. He volunteered for Habitat for Humanity. Cox created and ran the Central Valley New Markets Tax Credit LLC Fund. The Central Valley Fund is a community development entity which raises money for projects located in economically-disadvantaged neighborhoods throughout CA’s Central Valley. The Central Valley Fund matches federal community development dollars with private money to build community improvements including health clinics, movie theaters, and college sports facilities (Burger, J., bakersfield.com/news, 3/06/18, TJ Cox for Congress, “About TJ”). Cox’s firm was awarded $55 million in funding for 2018 that will be used all across the 21st CD. Cox stated he is deeply familiar with how much this area needs in growth, jobs, and leadership.
Cox, married to a physician and the father of four children, strongly went after Valadao for his nearly perfect Trump voting record. Anti-Trump feeling runs high in the area, even among GOPers who want to check his power (See latimes.com, Barabak & Sweedler, 11/26/18). Cox criticized Valadao for voting to repeal Obamacare. Cox stands for protecting Medicare and Social Security, and supporting education. Cox advocates an immigration policy that works for everyone. (“About TJ”). In the heavily Hispanic 21st district, Valadao has a reputation for constantly talking about and believing in immigration reform. However, according to Cal State Bakersfield political science professor Mark Martinez, “He (Valadao) says the right things (about immigration) even though he votes another way (Burger, bakersfield.com, 3/06/18).” Cox has strongly taken on Valadao for his failure to produce results on immigration. Cox has called Valadao’s moderate stances on immigration “lip service.” Cox stated that when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was running around chasing families and impacting businesses, Valadao was “AWOL.” Cox aptly ridiculed Valadao’s tepid reaction to ICE abuses. In Cox’s words, “What the hell does he (Valadao) mean by saying he’s ‘monitoring the situation (Burger, Bakersfield.com)?’” Valadao’s re-election chances were also not helped by the fact that he had defaulted on almost $9 million in loans. In 6/2018, a bank seized Valadao’s dairy and sold it to pay its debts (fresnobee.com, Calix, Garcia, “Roll Call,” 6/13/18).
Cox raised more than $400,000 for his election run. Obama endorsed him. Cox stated that winning in the 21st was “all about the ground game and the get out the vote effort. There’s more of our voters out there and we need to connect to them (Burger, Bakersfield.com, 3/06/18, asianjournal.com, 8/05/18).”
Cox did just that. On election night, 11/06/2018, Cox was trailing by nearly 4,400 votes and was 7 points behind Valadao. Several media outlets had called the race for Valadao. However, on 11/26/2018, Cox took a 436 -vote lead (latimes.com, Barabak & Sweedler, 11/26/18, fivethirtyeight.com, Rakich, 11/27/18). Many media outlets then retracted their calls. This voting pattern is typical of previous CA elections. GOPers vote early, while Democrats make significant gains from mail-in-and other ballots tallied after Election Day (latimes.com, 11/26/18). On 11/28/2018, over three weeks after the midterm, the LA Times called this race for Cox after he expanded his lead to 529 votes over Valadao with additional updated votes coming in from Kings and Fresno County. The non-partisan Cook Report also called this race for Cox and Cox himself declared victory (Barabak, latimes.com, 11/28/18, Chaitin, 11/28/18, washingtonexaminer.com, thehill.com, Hagen, 11/28/18). Again, Dems struck “Blue Gold” in CA flipping all 7 Hillary-carried districts, the biggest “Mother Lode” of “Red” to “Blue” flips in the country. Dems now have a 235-200 House majority (washingtonexaminer.com). Congratulations DCCC (Democratic Congressional Committee) for successfully targeting these seats. More importantly, Campaign 2018 shows that turnout is EVERYTHING. Every vote counts. When Democrats vote, we and our country win.