Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Obama’s 21st CD win shows Valadao could be vulnerable

Hanford Republican David Valadao trounced his financially strapped and listless Democratic Party opponent, John Hernandez, in last November’s 21st Congressional District race, winning by 16 percentage points.

But Democrat Barack Obama, seeking his second term as president, did pretty good himself. He won the district by 11 percentage points — 55% to 44% for Republican Mitt Romney.

Taken together, it means one thing, said Los Angeles political analyst Allan Hoffenblum, a longtime Republican strategist and author of the California Target Book: “This will be a target race” in 2014.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee appears to have picked up on that. It’s already busy attacking Valadao.

In fact, Obama not only won Valadao’s district in 2012, he also won inside those boundaries in 2008 — 52% to 46% over Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP candidate. And Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown won more votes inside Valadao’s district lines in 2010, Hoffenblum said.

Using some of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s own criteria, that pretty much makes Valadao’s seat competitive.

Just to the north of Valadao’s 21st District is the 16th District, held by Fresno Democrat Jim Costa. The National Republican Congressional Committee is saying it, too, is a targeted race.

But there’s one big difference in the two districts — Obama also took Costa’s district, winning by 20 percentage points. It’s why, on paper at least, Valadao looks more vulnerable.

Still, in both districts the key is recruiting a viable candidate, which Hoffenblum said is likely in the works now.

Hernandez’s campaign was consistently broke, which made it hard to get out the message. Valadao, by comparison, had a ton of cash and a $600,000 assist from the outside group Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies.

Valadao won, 58% to 42% for Hernandez.

In the 16th District, Costa outspent Fresno Republican Brian Whelan, who never seemed to get traction despite having a decent war chest. Costa won 57.4% of the vote to Whelan’s 42.6%.

But Hernandez and Whelan were never considered first stringers by party leaders. Despite efforts by both Republican and Democratic Party leaders, no heavy hitters stepped up to try and challenge Valadao or Costa.

The question is — can Democrats bring in a true challenger to take on Valadao in the 21st District, and can Republicans do the same in the 16th District?

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