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Your guide to California’s Congressional District 22 race: San Joaquin Valley

Three side-by-side photos, each with a man pictured from the neck up, the third wearing a red MAGA hat
Incumbent Rep. David Valadao, left, faces three challengers in the San Joaquin Valley district’s U.S. House primary: Democrat Rudy Salas, center, Republican Chris Mathys, right, and Democrat Melissa Hurtado, not pictured.
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California’s 22nd Congressional District race is likely to be one of the most competitive House contests this election year.

A Republican incumbent is fighting to keep his seat in a swing district won by President Biden in the 2020 election. In 2022, Rep. David Valadao of Hanford was considered one of the GOP’s vulnerable incumbents, resulting in the national Republican and Democratic parties pouring millions of dollars into the race. This year, the race will likely see another infusion of cash as two prominent Democrats and a conservative Republican challenge Valadao in the March 5 primary.

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Who are the candidates?

  • Rep. David Valadao, Republican, incumbent

Valadao is defending his seat in the heavily agricultural district. He was one of 10 House Republicans who voted in 2021 to impeach former President Trump for his role as a “driving force” behind the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Valadao was first elected to Congress in 2012 after one term in the state Assembly. He served in Congress for three straight terms before losing his 2018 reelection bid. But he returned to Congress in 2020, and was reelected in 2022, defeating Democratic challenger Rudy Salas by a 3% margin.

  • Rudy Salas, Democrat, former member of the state Assembly

Salas is challenging Valadao once again. The son of farmworkers, in 2010 he became the first Latino elected to the Bakersfield City Council. Salas served five terms in the Assembly. He has been endorsed by the California Democratic Party, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the United Farm Workers union. Salas told the Times he is running “to continue delivering for Valley families.”

  • Melissa Hurtado, Democrat, state senator

Hurtado declared her intention to run in August, setting up a potentially competitive primary. Hurtado has branded herself as part of a new generation of Latina political leaders; in 2018, at age 30, she became the youngest woman ever elected to the state Senate. Previously, she served on the Sanger City Council.

  • Chris Mathys, Republican, former Fresno City Council member

Mathys also is challenging Valadao, framing himself as being further to the political right than the congressman. The cattle ranch owner told The Times he is running because he believes Valadao “betrayed voters” when he voted to impeach Trump. “I will fight for our conservative values and will always put Americans first,” he said.

Under California’s top-two primary system, the two candidates who receive the most votes in the March primary will advance to November’s general election, regardless of their political party.

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Where is the district?

The 22nd Congressional District covers portions of Kern, Kings and Tulare counties and includes the cities of Delano, Shafter, Porterville and Bakersfield. It is in the San Joaquin Valley, a heavily agricultural area whose voters have become increasingly Democratic. According to the California Secretary of State’s office, 43% of the district’s registered voters are Democrats, compared with 26% who are Republican and 23% who registered as political independents, with no party preference. The remainder registered with other political parties.

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Abortion

In Congress, Valadao co-sponsored a bill that would have banned abortion nationwide with no exceptions. Afterward, he appeared to step back from that stance, telling Bakersfield’s KGET-TV in 2022 that he supports exceptions to abortion, including for rape, incest or to protect a mother’s life. He did not respond to a Times questionnaire that asked candidates how they would vote on the issue of abortion in Congress.

Salas has said he believes the government should not interfere with a woman’s right to an abortion. In 2022, he co-sponsored Proposition 1, the statewide ballot measure to enshrine the right to abortion and contraceptives in California’s Constitution. The measure passed with two-thirds of the vote. Salas said he would vote to support “nationwide abortion rights” to prevent states from outlawing abortion.

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Hurtado supports protecting “reproductive freedom” and had also advocated to put Proposition 1 on the ballot to protect such rights in the state Constitution. Previously, she worked as an organizer for Planned Parenthood.

Mathys said that while he would not change the current law and leave decisions about abortion to the states, he believes that life begins at conception and in protecting “the unborn.”

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Healthcare

Valadao has said he supports a “market-based approach” to healthcare to address gaps in coverage. In 2017, he voted for a House GOP bill that sought to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Valadao has said he supports reforms to Medicare, but does not support changing benefits for people who are currently receiving benefits or nearing retirement.

Salas supports the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and has sought to expand access to mental health treatment in rural communities. He said he supports expanding Medicare coverage for seniors, negotiating with pharmaceutical companies to lower prescription drug prices, and making sure farmworkers are eligible to receive coverage under the ACA.

Before becoming a state senator, Hurtado worked as a healthcare advocate, enrolling patients into insurance plans under the ACA. She said she supports lowering prescription drug prices and expanding in-home care for seniors. As a state senator, Hurtado secured funding for the Valley Fever Institute at the Kern Medical Center, and an additional $15 million that went toward increasing access to asthma prevention services and support for vulnerable communities.

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Mathys said he supports reducing prescription drug prices and advocates for transparency in hospital billing.

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Immigration

Valadao said he favors a comprehensive approach to reforming the nation’s immigration policies, including creating a “fair process” for immigrants who already live and work in the U.S. to become citizens. He co-sponsored the House’s Dream Act of 2017, which would have provided a pathway to legal status for people who were brought into the country as children. Valadao also backs having a guest-worker program to support the country’s agricultural workforce, which depends heavily on people who entered the country without authorization. Valadao is the son of Portuguese immigrants.

Salas, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, has advocated for creating a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who have been living in the U.S. and are of good standing. He said he also believes in increasing security along the U.S.-Mexico border and modernizing border security.

Hurtado said she also supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. On her campaign website, she says she will work to fix the “broken immigration system” to keep families together. In the state Senate, she advocated to expand healthcare access and food assistance to older immigrants who lack legal status. Hurtado’s parents are immigrants from Mexico.

Mathys said he believes the U.S. should finish constructing the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and that current policies under the Biden administration allow for a “deadly flow of criminal activity.” He also said he favors ending government-funded support for people who are in the country illegally.

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Past coverage

California Rep. David Valadao is being challenged by Assemblymember Rudy Salas, who would be the first Latino sent to Congress from the Central Valley.

Nov. 7, 2022

Rep. David Valadao wins reelection in endangered Central Valley congressional seat, defeating Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas.

Nov. 21, 2022

2022 California midterm election: Congressional candidates David Valadao and Rudy Salas on abortion, inflation, homelessness, Central Valley water.

Oct. 25, 2022

L.A. Times Editorial Board Endorsements

The Times’ editorial board operates independently of the newsroom — reporters covering these races have no say in the endorsements.

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How and where to vote

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Read more California election guides

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More election news

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