Ex-legislator in the lead for the House seat left by Trump Ally Nunes | New policies
By MICHAEL R. BLOOD, AP Political Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former California legislative leader took an early advantage in early returns Tuesday in a special election to fill a U.S. House seat left vacant after Rep. Devin Nunes resigned to lead the former President Donald Trump’s media company.
Republican Connie Conway, a former GOP leader in the state Assembly and former county supervisor, opened a gap over five other contestants with about 34% of the vote, according to a tally of the ballots.
Nunes was known as a strong supporter of Trump on Capitol Hill. If Conway does end up triumphing, Nunes’ replacement would also have ties to the former president – Conway served as California’s executive director of the Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency during the Trump administration.
Several rivals were grouped behind her, including Democrats Lourin Hubbard, director of the state Department of Water Resources, and Eric Garcia, a Navy and Iraq War veteran, and Republican Matt Stoll. a former Navy combat pilot and small business owner.
Hubbard was Conway’s closest competitor, with about 20% of the vote.
The election in the Republican-leaning 22nd District has been largely ignored as National Democrats and Republicans focus on the midterm elections that will determine control of Congress in 2023.
The state’s Central Valley seat – sometimes called the salad bowl of the country because of its agricultural output – is expected to remain in Republican hands.
If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff between the top two will coincide with statewide primary elections on June 7.
Nunes’ unexpected departure in January created an unusual situation for his former constituents: the winner of the election will serve only months in Congress, and the district will disappear next year because of redrawn borders.
Postal voting began last month and early feedback indicates low turnout. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic making headlines, campaigns say voters they contact are sometimes surprised to learn an election is taking place or are unaware that Nunes, a prominent Trump loyalist in Congress, resigned.
There are six candidates on the ballot – four Republicans and two Democrats. With a potential runoff, there’s a chance two Republicans will face off for the seat in June.
Nunes, 48, was comfortably re-elected in November 2020 before leaving office with one year to join the Trump Media & Technology Group. The company hopes its social media platform will rival rivals like Twitter and Facebook, which blocked the former president’s accounts after the deadly storming of the US Capitol on January 6.
Other candidates include Republican Elizabeth Heng, a tech executive who lost her congressional race in a neighboring district in 2018 and briefly ran for the US Senate; and Michael Maher, a Navy veteran and former FBI special agent.
Different agendas are at stake. Conway, if elected, plans to serve only the remainder of Nunes’ term. However, Garcia, Maher and Stoll are also running in the June statewide primary in a newly drawn district — the 21st — that includes a slice of Nunes territory. In that race, they’ll face Democratic Rep. Jim Costa, and it’s obvious they’re hoping a victory in Nunes’ former territory will be a stepping stone to winning the district.
A second round would be politically tricky for Garcia, Maher or Stoll. In this case, a candidate’s name would end up appearing twice on the June ballot – once in a runoff for the vacant Nunes seat and a second time in a new House district for the term that begins in 2023. Voters could easily be confused by seeing the same name twice.
With little at stake in the contest to replace Nunes, money has been tight and, as a result, publicity has been sporadic.
Federal fundraising records show Garcia, for example, raised more than $200,000 but only had $1,700 in the bank as of mid-March. Heng raised $215,000 and had around $60,000 on hand at the time. But she also racked up $95,000 in unpaid bills, leaving her campaign effectively in debt.
The result also won’t tip the balance of power on Capitol Hill, where Democrats hold a narrow majority.
The little-watched contest is taking place in a difficult political environment for congressional Democrats. Polls show many Americans are unhappy with the direction the country is heading, and President Joe Biden’s approval ratings have plummeted.
While the contest for the vacant Nunes seat has been a national afterthought, California is at the center of the fight for the House. There are about half a dozen highly competitive districts in the June ballot. Such contests are rare in the liberal-minded state, where Democrats hold all statewide positions, dominate in the Legislature and have a 42-10 advantage in the congressional delegation. .
Nationally, 30 House Democrats and 15 Republicans are not seeking re-election this year. Additionally, there are 5 vacancies in the House due to resignations or deaths.
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