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The only Democrat running against a vulnerable California Republican just dropped out of House race

Democratic attorney Emilio Huerta during a tour of his Bakersfield campaign office in 2016.
(Sarah D. Wire / Los Angeles Times )
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The lone candidate for a U.S House seat out of California that the Democrats consider a prime pickup opportunity for the midterms is ending his congressional bid.

The Fresno Bee reported the news Sunday and said Emilio Huerta wrote in an op-ed that he would instead focus on helping other Democrats win election to various levels of government office.

Huerta, a lawyer and son of labor rights icon Dolores Huerta, was attempting to unseat GOP Rep. David Valadao for the second time in November. He lost to Valadao by 13 percentage points in 2016.

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Huerta has not responded to requests for comment.

Democrats are not ceding the race, and expect a new candidate to announce before this week’s filing deadline.

Huerta’s exit has some Democrats who were concerned he was a weak candidate breathing a sigh of relief.

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Elected officials and Democratic party operatives in the Central Valley and in Washington had told The Times they felt the candidate’s mother pressured them to keep other candidates from entering the race.

Valadao’s 21st Congressional District in 2016 backed Hillary Clinton for president by a wide margin and Democrats overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans there.

Huerta had just about $100,000 in the bank as of Dec. 31 and did scant campaigning. Valadao has nearly $1 million in his war chest at the end of the year.

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Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján thanked Huerta in a statement.

“Emilio Huerta and his family have made immense contributions to the Central Valley and our country as a whole. Every hardworking Californian owes them a debt of gratitude for their advocacy on behalf of families, children and our progressive values nationwide,” Luján said.

Local activists and party strategists in the last week have been floating the names of other potential candidates who could run in the majority Latino district that includes parts of Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.

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Several Central Valley Democratic Party sources who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media said they expect engineer T.J. Cox to announce a run next week. Cox has been running in a crowded field in the nearby 10th Congressional District, but owns a home and business in Fresno.

Cox had less than $300,000 in cash on hand at the beginning of the year, putting him behind the other Democrats in his race.

Calls to Cox’s campaign manager have not been returned.

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He already has run for Congress in the area. In 2006, he lost to former Rep. George Radanovich by more than 20 percentage points in what was the 19th Congressional District before district boundaries were redrawn.

Even though only 29% of voters in the district are registered as Republicans, Valadao has easily fended off Democratic challengers since his first election in 2012.

A local dairy farmer, Valadao has focused on bringing more water to the Central Valley, something that plays well in an agricultural district hit hard by drought. He’s also been willing to break with Republican leadership to push for immigration reform, most recently backing Democratic bills to resolve the legal status of people brought to the country illegally.

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sarah.wire@latimes.com

Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter

Read more about the 55 members of California’s delegation at latimes.com/politics

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