Former Devin Nunes challenger announces new plan for 2022, targets open congressional seat

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA/ezamora@fresnobee.com
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A Fresno Democrat who raised millions of dollars to challenge Rep. Devin Nunes in 2020 announced plans on Thursday to run for an open congressional seat in the San Joaquin Valley.

Phil Arballo, a small business owner, had been planning to run in a special election this year to fill out the remainder of the California Republican’s term. Nunes resigned from Congress to become the chief executive officer of former President Donald Trump’s media company this month.

That position from the special election would last just six months, until the next Congress takes office in January 2023.

Instead, Arballo will run for California’s 13th Congressional District, a left-leaning stretch across Merced County that takes chunks of Modesto and Turlock down to the top of Fresno County.

Arballo, who lives in Fresno County, said he would prefer to spend time getting to know new voters in the 13th district, and to represent them for longer.

“I can do better service in two years and not six months,” he said in an interview with The Fresno Bee.

Arballo said that he would focus on water access, the pandemic and child care among other issues.

Major election analysts predict that the 13th district is likely to vote for a Democrat in 2022, but it is considered to be home to one of California’s closest races. Analysts say that the district formed through redistricting, once-a-decade redrawing of legislative maps, slightly favors Democrats.

But members of the same party as the president — in this case, Democrats —historically do not do as well as members from the opposite party in congressional elections. And there is no incumbent running there; incumbents normally have an advantage over newcomers.

Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, previously planned on running there. After Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, said this week that he would not run again in the left-leaning district that holds Stockton, Harder moved his campaign there.

Following Harder’s move, Assemblyman Adam Gray, a moderate Democrat who has represented Merced County in the state Legislature since 2012, announced that he would run in the 13th district. Already, Gray has racked up endorsements from Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Alex Padilla, Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno and dozens of other current and former California politicians.

Republican businessman and former teacher David Giglio and Democratic infectious-disease expert Angelina Sigala are also running in the 13th district.

Arballo’s campaign raised $1.1 million over the last year and has $467,000 cash on hand, his campaign announced.

If elected, Arballo could be one of the Central Valley’s first Latino representatives in the United States House of Representatives.

The 13th district has a Latino-majority voting-age population. Guidelines for the commission charged with redistricting required them to make a number of districts where ethnic minorities have the opportunity to vote for candidates of their choosing.

The Central Valley ended up with three Latino-majority districts after redistricting. Assemblyman Rudy Salas, a Democrat who is also Latino, is running to unseat Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, in another one of those districts that is increasingly blue.

Arballo said he hopes to be able to use his background to connect with voters.

“What a big win this is for Latinos in redistricting,” Arballo said. “Now we need to put money where our mouth is and run in places like this, to have a candidate who not only looks like them but understands our struggle.”

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