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California’s 22nd District Is One of the Most Competitive House Races in the Country

5 minute read

The race to win California’s 22nd congressional district in the midterms has become one of the tightest House races in the country. The outcome is set to prove whether Republicans who have bucked Donald Trump can still have a place in their party, whether Democrats can keep Latino voters on their side, and how big of a majority the GOP can win in the House.

Though several polls and historical trends point to Republicans ultimately winning control of the House in the midterms, the size of that majority could vary, and California’s 22nd district is one of only a few seats in the country with the potential to sway one way or another.

The Republican on the ticket, Congressman David Valadao, was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach former President Trump in 2021. Most of the other nine lost their primaries after that vote or chose not to seek reelection. But while Trump didn’t endorse Valadao, nor did he endorse his opponent in the primary, and Valadao hung on. For Republicans, keeping the 22nd district—which is currently held by a Republican and neighbors House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s 23rd district—could be key in padding a majority if they take over the House.

“This is one of the most competitive seats in the country because in order for Republicans to win the House, we need to keep this seat. I’ve won in tight races before because I stay focused on the district and the issues that matter to the Valley,” Valadao said in a statement to TIME. “Voters have a choice this November between a Congressman that actually shows up for them and takes the tough votes, and one that has made a career of ducking votes and trying to hide his positions from voters.”

Read More: 5 House Races That Will Determine Whether Democrats Keep Power

But Democrats view the district as one that can be flipped in their favor. Though Republicans have won District 22 in recent election cycles, it has been historically competitive, and redistricting added more Democratic voters to the district. The bluer turf, combined with Valadao’s vote against Trump, could give an edge to Democratic candidate Rudy Salas, a California assemblyman.

“Literally, this is Kevin [McCarthy’s] backyard,” says Mark Martinez, chair of the Department of Political Science at California State University Bakersfield, which resides in the district. “So this congressional district would be a slap in the face for [McCarthy] to lose.”

Valadao and Salas have campaigned aggressively, and have raised more than $2 million each so far in trying to secure the seat. “The voters here, they don’t vote for the party, they vote for the candidate,” says Abby Olmstead, Salas’ campaign manager. “They’re really looking for the person who’s going to do the most good for the most amount of people to really deliver.”

Latest polling by RMG Research and David Binder Research find Salas ahead of Valadao by five and eight points, respectively. But while Salas has an advantage after redistricting, historically low voter turnout among Latino Democrats in the district, according to Martinez and Madrid, could work in Valadao’s favor. California 22, which is nearly 60% Latino, will be a test case for whether Republicans can make significant inroads with Latino voters, if Valadao wins. “What it shows is that they will be able to break into the California Latino electorate, which is the toughest electorate for Republicans to break into,” says Mike Madrid, a Republican political consultant.

Read More: Republican Mayra Flores Won Over Key Texas Latinos. Can She Do It Again?

Some voters may find issues in Valadao’s voting record. Valadao has several times voted against capping the price of insulin, and diabetes is a prevailing issue in the region—a point Salas has made in his campaign ads. “This directly is a vote against the interests of the people who live in this region,” says Martinez. It also remains to be seen how the Supreme Court’s decision last term to overturn Roe v. Wade will animate the electorate; Valadao is a co-sponsor of a bill that would ban abortion nationally.

Despite Valadao’s vote to impeach Trump, Republicans nationally have continued to support him financially in the days leading up to election day. Punchbowl News reported on Oct. 20 that the Republican super PAC Defending Main Street spent six figures on a radio ad attacking Salas as a “jet-setter” who spends more time on vacation than legislating. Salas, meanwhile, has the endorsement of the United Farm Workers, one of the most influential organizing groups in the region, the same labor group famous for advocacy led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in the 1960s.

“The majority of our congressional districts are not competitive,” Martinez says. “But this is one of the areas where we actually have a competitive race consistently. This is the way democracy is supposed to be.”

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Write to Jasmine Aguilera at jasmine.aguilera@time.com