Primary 2020 went smoothly for Tulare, Kings and Fresno Counties as election returns were almost final before midnight. Here is a breakdown of the parties and victories up and down the South Valley as the final numbers came revealed the winners and losers.
22nd Congressional District
With early returns coming in heavily in his favor, it appears Phil Arballo (D-Fresno) will go head-to-head with incumbent Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) in the race for the 22nd US Congressional District.
In Tulare County, Arballo gathered 5,377 votes with 73 of 74 precincts reporting, according to the Tulare County Elections Office. Trailing him were his two Democratic opponents, Bobby Bliatout (D-Fresno) with 3,213 votes, and Dary Rezvani with 1,006 votes. Independent candidate Eric Garcia of Fresno garnered 710 votes. Nunes was the top vote-getter with 18,319 votes in his favor.
The story was much the same in Fresno County, where Arballo took just under 25% of the ballot with 14,143 votes. Bliatout had just under 10% with 5,722 votes, and Rezvani (1,308 votes) and Garcia (1,273 votes) had about 2.3% of the ballot each. Nunes was again the top choice with 34,663 votes in his favor, just under 61% of the total votes.
Prior to the election, Bliatout described a positive reaction from voters to his campaign.
“It’s going really great. The name recognition is there. The face recognition is there,” he said. “People tell me they’re voting for me before I even introduce myself. It’s got me energetic.”
He described a clean race among the Democratic challengers.
“There wasn’t a lot of fighting between us,” Bliatout said. “We’re very cordial amongst us. We don’t give any ammunition to the other side.”
The “other side” in this case is Nunes, who recently filed his seventh defamation case against news outlets who he says have injured him with their reporting, his fellow congressmen and most famously against a Twitter user posting under the name @DevinCow.
The most recent suit is against The Washington Post and reporter Shane Harris. According to The Post’s reporting, Nunes allegedly alerted President Trump to details of an intelligence report made to lawmakers that indicated the Russian government is interfering in the 2020 presidential election to aid Trump. Nunes has denied the assertion and is seeking a $250,350,000 in damages.
Nunes’ failure to disclose how he is paying for the lawsuits may lead to another ethics investigation of his behavior. On February 26, attorneys for the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center wrote to the Office of Congressional Ethics to request an investigation into whether Nunes has broken House rules forbidding congressmen from receiving free legal services.
Nunes’ various lawsuits are seeking a total of nearly $1 billion in damages.
With more than 30% of precincts now reporting to results to the Secretary of State, Arballo’s campaign has declared victory.
“I think you and I can both do the math,” Arballo said.
That means it’s time for Arballo to prepare himself for the general election contest against Nunes on November 3.
“What’s next is just building out the support we have here,” Arballo said. “We have eight months. It’s just continuing to tell the story of who I am and why I’m running.”
Because of Nunes’ closeness to Trump and the attention his lawsuits have garnered, the race for the 22nd District will be closely watched around the nation.
“This is a national race because of Nunes being a national issue,” Arballo said. “This is considered the most flippable seat. It’s going to get a lot of national attention.”
Arballo believes he has a good chance of upsetting Nunes, an eight-time incumbent who came close to being unseated in 2018.
“This district is ready for a change,” Arballo said. “Someone who’s going to fight for families, for business.”
21st Congressional District – 32nd Assembly District
It was Taco Tuesday at David Valadao and Todd Cotta’s party as about 150 friends and supporters gathered at a private home in Hanford to watch the election returns. Spirits were high as Valadao had 56.4% of the vote in the 21st Congressional District race against Incumbent TJ Cox.
Valadao said that he has been focusing on a grassroots campaign by going door-to-door. He and Cotta, who share a campaign office, hit 1,100 homes just last Saturday. Valadao said they have visited 6000 homes in total and made 50,000 phone calls.
Valadao put out a statement towards the end of the night:
“I am honored to have earned the vote of so many voters across the Central Valley. We built a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and No Party Preference voters throughout Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare Counties who are ready to have Congress start working for them again. From water to trade to the economy, everywhere I go voters want politicians to put aside the partisan fights and get to work on the issues that matter. That’s exactly what I plan to do. I look forward to earning voters’ support again in November.”
Cotta, who is running against incumbent Rudy Salas for Assembly District 32, said, “Anything I get tonight is great.” Cotta has only been campaigning for two months. The National Republican Congressional Committee asked him to run in November and he filed his paperwork in December.
But Cotta did better than just “anything” and received 48.6% of the vote to Sala’s 51.4%.
Having lived his entire life in Kings County and getting to know the community through his store, Kings Gun Center, meant that his stronghold would be his home turf. Cotta said he has teamed up with Kern County Supervisor David Couch to go door-to-door in that part of his district.
Cotta and Valadao’s districts mirror each other in Kern and Kings County, while Valadao’s district has a portion of Fresno County.
Amy Shuklian takes decisive win
The wine was flowing, friends were taking group pictures and congratulations were to be offered for Tulare County Supervisor Amy Shuklian in her victory over challenger Brad Maaske for District 3.
As well-wishers flowed into the Marriott Hotel at the Convention Center one woman told Shuklian, “We all knew you were going to win. You were the only one worried.”
But with the contentious campaign Shuklian had reason to worry. “It’s been a rough couple of months. I’ve never been in a campaign where so many negative comments were made towards me by my opponent and his supporters.”
“But that motivated me,” said Shuklian. “That’s why we knocked on 5,000 doors and walked the district every Saturday and Sunday since December.”
By the end of the night Maaske still held out hope, saying on Facebook, “With 10,000 votes in I need 70% of the next 8,000 to win. I am going to sleep knowing it will be a miracle if the late votes come in for me. Thank you to everyone who has supported me.”
With 90% of the vote reported by midnight Shuklian was winning with 60%.
Tulare County Supervisor District 1
The mood was festive at China’s Alley in Lindsay for District 1 Supervisor Kuyler Crocker’s election night party. While the champagne wasn’t flowing, the beer and margaritas were.
“The restaurant was close to filled,” Crocker said. “It was a good turnout.”
With 21 of 23 precincts reporting, Crocker has 2,990 votes or about 37.1% of the ballot. Leading the voting was Larry Micari with 3,770 votes (46.8%), while Robin Stearns trailed with 1,293 votes (16.1%).
Though the Elections Office is reporting that 91.3% of the vote has been recorded, Crocker believes many ballots remain uncounted.
“If you look at the total primary votes from 2016, there were about 20,000 votes cast,” he said. “We’re at about half that.”
The elections office’s early returns show 8,053 total votes were cast in the District 1 race.
Despite his apparent second-place finish, Crocker likes his chances of keeping his seat.
“We’ll see what happens as additional votes come in and continue on the fight,” he said. “I like my chances. If I didn’t like my chances, I wouldn’t be running. As history has shown, I’ve been in close, tight races in the past.”
Micari was with family and friends watching the returns at a private residence in Exeter.
Micari said, “I just had a lot of support and knew I would not be disappointed with tonight results.”
He said he is waiting until after the primary is done before he and his team make a strategy for the second phase of the campaign.
Crocker also finished second in the primary voting in 2016, and he feels he has a lot of support from voters in his district this year, enough to give him four more years in office.
“I feel good about the campaign that we’ve run,” he said. “I really appreciate all the supporters. It’s definitely a humbling feeling.”