Former Rep. David Valadao takes slight lead in California rematch against Democrat TJ Cox

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Former Rep. David Valadao held a slight lead on election night in his bid to unseat Rep. TJ Cox, D-Fresno, in a rematch of their 2018 race.

Valadao said Tuesday night he was “encouraged by the early results.” He had 51% of the votes counted as of 11:35 p.m.

“But we know there are a lot of votes still yet to be counted,” he said in a statement to McClatchy. “Voters appear to have turned out in record numbers and they deserve to have their votes counted fairly and accurately. We have faith in our local election officials to do that.”

Cox’s campaign said Tuesday night that he wished he could’ve met with more voters in person as he did in 2018, but was proud of the race he had run during a global pandemic. He also urged patience while votes are counted.

“We owe it to the Valley to get this right, and ensure each and every vote is counted, no matter who wins,” the campaign said in statement. “Tonight I’m urging the Central Valley to take a pause, so every voice can be heard.”

The race has been a bitter one, with millions of dollars spent in the district by outside Democratic and Republican groups. Advertisements by both sides accused the other of improper or inept business dealings.

For Cox, that included past failures to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes on time and disclose all his businesses as required. For Valadao, it included his family dairies going bankrupt and an incident at one of those dairies when a worker lost a hand.

Cox has repeatedly tried to link Valadao to President Donald Trump, who is unpopular in the Latino-majority district. Valadao has tried to separate himself from Trump, which he was able to do successfully in the 2016 election, when Valadao won reelection as a Republican in a district Trump lost by 16 percentage points.

Cox unseated Valadao in 2018, the year when a blue wave flipped seven Republican congressional seats in California to Democratic control. Earlier this year, Republicans took one of those seats back in a special election.

Five of those seven California races have favored Democrats this year, according to nonpartisan race watchers like the Cook Political Report. Two are considered tossups, by the Cook Political Report, including the race between Cox and Valadao. Another race watcher, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, rated the race “lean Democratic.”

The prospect of no immediate winner in this race is an expected one — the majority of votes in California this year are expected to come from mail-in ballots, and officials have 17 days after Election Day to continue counting ballots, as long as they were postmarked by Election Day. Early returns had Valadao up over Cox.

Even in the 2018 election, without the problem of COVID-19, it took nearly a month for final results in the original race when Cox ousted Valadao.

The Associated Press, typically considered the top standard in how races are called, erroneously called that election for Valadao originally. It retracted that call on Nov. 26, 2018. The AP then called the race for Cox on Nov. 28, and Valadao conceded on Dec. 6. The final tally had Cox beating Valadao by only 862 votes.

Results aren’t officially due until 30 days after Election Day in California.