Though it’s only been three months since Fresno Democrat Phil Arballo narrowly lost his bid to take the 22nd Congressional District seat away Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), he has already announced his intent to try again.
Arballo Can Win
During the 2020 general election, Arballo finished just 8.4% behind the long-time incumbent congressman, and he figures that close outcome shows he’s in a prime position to win when Nunes again comes up for re-election next year.
“One hundred and forty thousand-plus people voted for change,” Arballo said. “We kept it within single digits.”
A successful product of the Valley, the would-be representative says his experience growing up here–living in conditions more typical of Valley life than his opponent’s–make him more qualified to serve CD-22’s residents’ interests than Nunes.
“Having grown up here, Latino, the son of a single parent, going to college here, raising a family here,” he said. “I am the best candidate.”
Will Nunes Run?
Despite confidence about his ability to oust the entrenched Nunes, Arbello may not face the six-term career politician in the CD-22 race.
Rumor has it Nunes may not seek re-election in 2022, opting instead to take a job with former President Donald Trump’s newly formed PAC. Called Save America, Trump’s new political action committee is flush, funded with cash syphoned from money solicited by Trump to supposedly pay for legal challenges to his loss in the 2020 presidential campaign. The PAC appears aimed at helping Trump maintain control over the highly divided Republican Party.
Nunes did not deny the rumor or respond to a request for comment.
The embattled congressmen, who has not hosted an open town hall in more than a decade, is facing multiple ethics complaints. Those complaints, which may lead to additional investigations against Nunes by the House Ethics Committee, involve questions over how Nunes is paying for the multiple lawsuits he has filed against individuals and news organizations that have spoken out against him. Recently, Nunes’ wife, a teacher in Tulare, was subjected to vulgar messages that are now at the center of a criminal investigation into the sender.
Arballo Staying Focused
Until some official word pierces the chaos surrounding the Nunes camp, Arballo says he will continue to assume the Republican remains in the race.
“My focus is beating Devin Nunes next year,” he said. “We don’t know otherwise, so that’s my intent.”
At least one local resident who is highly-placed in the Republican Party also wondered, while watching accounts of the congressman’s struggles as portrayed on Fox News, if Nunes would run again in 2022. After reaching out to someone close to Nunes, the individual was told Nunes will run. The GOP faithful also appear confident in the congressman’s ability to retain his seat.
“He (Nunes) may not get the usual large margin, but I am sure, if he runs, he will win,” the insider said.
Still, questions remain and rumors about Nunes’ future persist. Yet another local GOP member said candidates to replace Nunes are already being discussed, including a current member of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. And, there’s the heat and backlash from the public, including apparent threats to Nunes’ family, as well as from the press to consider, Arballo noted.
“He has to make that decision, what’s best for him and his family,” he said.
The Redistricting Wildcard
Much of the credit for Devin Nunes’ long career may be due to the fact his district was designed to create a GOP stronghold that–until Democratic candidate Andrew Janz’ hard-fought attempt to unseat Nunes in 2016 almost succeeded–was practically unassailable. Nunes could well lose that geographical leg-up when California redraws maps for congressional districts, this time with both parties inking the lines.
“With redistricting this year, it’s going to get more competitive,” Arballo said.
As it stands, coupling Tulare County with more conservative-leaning areas of Fresno County has worked to Nunes’ benefit. His percentage of votes in Tulare County was far greater than his returns from the district’s northern reaches. Nunes’ disdain for public appearances and his lack of responsiveness to constituents is becoming more and more unacceptable in the current political climate.
“It’s only going to get worse this year,’ Arballo said. “There’s no reason for Devin to make himself available to anyone.”
Compounding the situation is the growing number of CD-22 voters moving away from the GOP. A final draft of the results of the California Citizens Redistricting Committee should be complete by mid-December of this year.
“It’s only a matter of time until we can put in a real representative,” said Arballo.
Down, Nowhere Near Out
What sets Arballo apart from his opponent, he says, is real-world experience.
During the COVID shut-down, Arballo says he made the difficult decision to shutter his financial services business. Now, he and his wife Cynthia–a lecturer at Fresno State teaching Spanish translation–are starting their own translation services business. Arballo will handle admin duties and marketing.
“We know how difficult it is at this time and how difficult it is for small business owners,” he said. “We’re just two parents at home with two kids. There is no outside help because of COVID.”
That lack of help for small businesses and others who have lost income due to the pandemic is something Arballo says Nunes failed to address, instead spending his time suing Twitter users and media companies.
“We need someone in Washington who knows what it’s like to start a small business,” Arballo said. “We need more advocacy at the top. We should have had a stimulus much sooner.”
Nunes, who began his career in politics at age 23, has been a full-time professional politician for more than two decades.
Arballo facing off against Nunes in November of 2022 supposes not only that Nunes will run, but also that Arballo will be one of the two top vote-getters during the primary election in June of that year. There is a third candidate who has indicated he’ll join the race: independent candidate Eric Garcia.
Garica, a disabled former US Marine living in Fresno, also ran for the CD-22 seat in 2020, but did not earn enough support in the nonpartisan primary to appear on the ballot during the general election in November. Garcia finished fifth in the five-way race behind Nunes, Arballo, two-time candidate and Fresno business-owner Bobby Bliatout and fellow Fresno resident, first-time candidate and business-owner Devy Resvani. Neither Resvani or Bliatout have expressed interest in another crack at the CD-22.
The Races for CD-21 and -23
Two weeks ago, former Assemblywoman Nicole Parra joined the race for the CD-21 seat, which includes Kings County and part of Kern. The seat is presently held by David Valadao (R-Hanford). Now, another contender in that race, a second Republican who hopes to be the GOP pick after Valadao was one of only 10 Republican congressmen who voted to impeach defeated former President Trump.
Entering the running for Valadao’s CD-21 seat is real estate broker Chris Mathys. Mathys ran an unsuccessful campaign for congress in New Mexico’s CD-2 as Republican in 2018, and sought that seek again just seven months ago, placing a distant third in the GOP primary.
He claims to “receive my strength from God not the government” on his campaign website.
Finally, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) will face a challenge in the 23rd Congressional District. Just announcing his candidacy is actor and US Navy veteran Bruno Amato. Amato, a Democrat, announced his candidacy Thursday via social media.
“I’m running to stand up for the little guy,” Amato said in a video statement announcing his candidacy.
The primary election for all three local congressional races is scheduled for June 7, 2022.