California Central Valley District Race Could Determine Which Party Rules Congress

California Central Valley District Race Could Determine Which Party Rules Congress

Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.) is among seven California GOP House incumbents that Democrats believe they can knock off in 2024. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

Travis Gillmore
Travis Gillmore

3/2/2024

Updated: 3/4/2024

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With the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives at stake in the November election, a race in California’s Central Valley could play a pivotal role, as incumbent Republican John Duarte is set for a rematch against former Assemblyman Adam Gray, a Democrat.
Six seats separate the two parties in the House, meaning a flip of four seats could give Democrats control of the chamber if all other seats are held.
As the only two candidates vying for the 13th District in the March 5 primary, Mr. Duarte and Mr. Gray are guaranteed to appear on the presidential ballot later this year, but Tuesday’s results could set the tone for what to expect in November.
The pairing will offer a rematch of the second tightest congressional race nationwide in 2022, when fewer than 600 votes separated the two out of more than 133,000 cast.
“In 2022, the outcome of my congressional race was determined by 564 votes,” Mr. Gray posted Jan. 27 on X. “That makes my race one of the most competitive in the nation.”
Nonpartisan analysts, including the Cook Report, are expecting another close race. As voter turnout is historically greater in races that include a presidential election, some are anticipating a close contest with more participation this year.
Encompassing the Central Valley, including the entire County of Merced and areas within Fresno, Madera, San Joaquin, and Stanislaus counties, the district was redrawn following the 2020 census that saw California lose a congressional seat due to population loss.
Congressman Duarte—a longtime business owner operating a nursery in the region—is a relative newcomer to the political arena as a first-term representative looking to hold his seat.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta, right, talks with Assemblyman Adam Gray, (D-Merced), as lawmakers discussed a gun control measure in the Assembly in Sacramento on Sept. 1, 2022. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo)

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, right, talks with Assemblyman Adam Gray, (D-Merced), as lawmakers discussed a gun control measure in the Assembly in Sacramento on Sept. 1, 2022. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo)

“I didn’t get into the race [in 2022] with any political background,” Mr. Duarte told The Epoch Times. “We came in with no campaign infrastructure, but I’m in touch with the issues in the district and I have a lot of credibility with many people.”
Having employed thousands of individuals over decades as a business owner, he said his commitment to improving the quality of life for farmers and working families is the reason he ventured into politics.
“Producers and lower-income families are greatly impacted by inflation and the scarcity brought on by the Biden Administration’s anti-energy and anti-resource policies,” Mr. Duarte said. “The message is clear: get water on the farms, drill American oil, and get the cost of living under control.”
In a district of nearly 800,000 people, nearly two-thirds of its population is Hispanic. It also has one of the highest levels of poverty in the nation, and higher than average unemployment rates.
He said, as such, families are suffering from policy decisions at the state and federal levels as food, housing, and energy costs continue to increase.
“It’s 105 degrees out there some days in the summer, and working families have their screen doors closed and the main door open, living in the heat because they can’t afford to run the air conditioner,” Mr. Duarte said. “Many of the job opportunities are limited in the area because of long-failed endangered species efforts and many, many failed programs that basically involve flushing water out to the ocean and have delivered no recovery of species.”
Suggesting the issue is a matter of prioritizing people and families over political agendas, he said Democrats are focused on policies that are detrimental to the working class.
“Their only answer seems to be to take water off the farms and destroy jobs and communities in the district,” Mr. Duarte said.
Such represents a difference in opinion about the availability and importance of access to resources, he said.
“We are the champions of abundance—the farmers, farm workers, families, and producers—those who want wise use of our natural resources,” Mr. Duarte said. “And we’re standing up to the lords of scarcity ... that want us to lead lesser lives, and they’re accomplishing this by constraining our use of natural resources that are abundant.”
Citing energy, water, land, and the opportunities provided by sustainable forestry and mining in America, he said policy decisions should benefit communities by making such resources available to families.
“These are all the foundations of people having sustenance and working families getting ahead, owning a home, and achieving the American dream,” Mr. Duarte said. “Joe Biden’s administration, and for a long time the state of California, have been absolutely destroying wise use of natural resources.”
His opponent—a small business owner who also teaches a course on the Legislature at the University of California–Merced—stressed his dedication to protecting the region, with his website describing his record as “unmatched.”
“Putting the valley first has been my lifelong mission,” Mr. Gray posted Dec. 7 on X. “As your next congressman, I’ll carry this commitment forward.”
If elected, he said he will sidestep divisive political agendas to work for his constituents.
“Adam has always put the needs of the community above partisan politics and that’s what he will continue to do if elected to Congress,” his campaign website reads.
Some are critical of Mr. Gray’s voting record while serving in the state Assembly and point out tax increases and the number of times he chose not to vote on bills related to “key issues,” including privacy rights for consumers, law enforcement authority, and the state’s high speed rail project.
“Self-serving Sacramento politician Adam Gray skipped over 150 votes while collecting over a million in taxpayer pay,” Ben Petersen, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson, told The Epoch Times. “When Gray did vote, he worsened inflation, hiked the gas tax, and raised taxes on dairy farmers, grape growers and livestock feed.”
Those interested in casting a ballot can visit voting centers from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on March 5 at locations throughout the district. Ballots can additionally be dropped in official voting boxes, or can be mailed with no postage necessary, but must be postmarked by March 5.
Mr. Gray did not respond to requests for comment on deadline.
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Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.

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