TJ Cox defeated three-term Republican Rep. David Valadao on Wednesday, giving Democrats a gain of seven House seats in California and 40 nationwide — the party’s strongest midterm showing since the Watergate era in the mid-1970s.
Cox clinched his victory more than three weeks after election day, when updated results from Fresno and Kings counties pushed his lead over Valadao to 529 votes. The contest was the country’s last remaining undecided congressional contest.
Cox, 55, trailed the GOP lawmaker by nearly 4,400 votes on election night but steadily gained ground as mail-in and other ballots tipped his way.
“Let this be a message to every Republican,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a tweet claiming victory. “If you come for Americans’ livelihoods, we WILL come for your seats.”
The pattern is a familiar one in California, where Republicans tend to vote early and Democrats later; ballots postmarked on election day are counted so long as they are received by election officials within three days. Others were counted once signatures and other details were verified, a process that takes weeks to complete.
Valadao has been a perennial Democratic target since his first election in 2012, as the 21st Congressional District leans heavily Democratic in voter registration. But Valadao consistently prevailed, even winning in 2016 when Hillary Clinton carried the district by double digits, thanks to a relentless focus on local issues.
The Central Valley district, which roughly parallels Interstate 5 from Fresno to Bakersfield, is heavily rural, and Valadao, who comes from a line of family dairy farmers, made a good fit.
But the anti-Trump wave that helped turn traditionally Republican Orange County blue this November also caught up with Valadao, who was relentlessly attacked by Cox for his nearly 100% voting record for the president’s agenda.
The run marked Cox’s second try for Congress, following an unsuccessful bid in 2006. An engineer by training, he founded two nut-processing companies and serves as president of a local community development organization.
Valadao was one of seven California lawmakers representing districts that Clinton carried. Two did not seek reelection and five lost. Democrats flipped the nearby 10th Congressional District as well as seats in northern Los Angeles, Orange and northern San Diego counties.
With Valadao’s ouster, Republicans will hold just seven of California’s 53 House seats. That is the fewest since 1947, when California had just 23 seats, according to Political Data, a firm that tracks voter trends.
The gain of 40 seats nationwide is the most for Democrats since 1974, when the party picked up 49 after President Nixon resigned under threat of impeachment and removal from office for his role in the Watergate corruption scandal.