Political Notebook

After months of irrelevancy, cash jolts keep rocking the 21st Congressional District race

Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, left, and Democratic challenger Emilio Huerta of Bakersfield are squaring off in the 21st Congressional District. Is the race competitive or not? More than $3 million in outside money has poured into the district the past few weeks, suggesting that it is.
Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, left, and Democratic challenger Emilio Huerta of Bakersfield are squaring off in the 21st Congressional District. Is the race competitive or not? More than $3 million in outside money has poured into the district the past few weeks, suggesting that it is.

What a difference a few weeks makes.

The 21st Congressional District – which covers all of Kings and parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties – has gone from the back burner to the front burner, from forgotten castoff to center of attention.

Now, political watchers are wondering if Hanford Republican David Valadao is in trouble.

Valadao easily dispatched his two previous challengers, despite representing a district where Democrats hold a voter-registration advantage that is now 17 percentage points. But is Bakersfield Democrat Emilio Huerta, the son of United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, giving him a true challenge this time around?

Nobody really knows, other than watching as the district’s political fever shoots through the roof.

It started two weeks ago with the Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC investing $844,221 in the district. The PAC released Spanish- and English-language ads supporting Huerta.

The American Action Network, an advocacy organization affiliated with the Republican-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund, responded with its own six-figure ad purchase attacking Huerta.

Both candidates did their own ads, some so hard-hitting they borderline on vicious.

President Barack Obama – who has twice won the district – chipped in with a Huerta endorsement.

Now, there are new developments.

Huerta has been promoted from second stringer to the top tier of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red-to-Blue” program, which targets races in which Democrats believe they can take out an incumbent Republican.

And the money continues to flow.

In the past week, the House Majority PAC has poured in an additional $883,078, bringing its total investment to almost $2 million.

The American Action Network has spent $270,756 in the past week to attack Huerta. In total, groups either supporting Valadao or opposing Huerta have spent $1.08 million.

Overall, outside group spending in the 21st District now is more than $3.1 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

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