By Jim Ellis
Jan. 20, 2022 — Setting off a game of political musical chairs, eight-term California Democrat US Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton) announced Tuesday that he will not seek a ninth term later this year. Rhode Island US Rep. Jim Langevin (D-Warwick) also announced that he will not seek re-election later this year.
CA-9; CA-13; current CA-22Originally elected to a Bay Area-anchored district in 2006 when he defeated veteran Rep. Richard Pombo (R), McNerney’s then-11th District was moved into the San Joaquin Valley because of 2011 redistricting. The new 9th District will still be anchored in the city of Stockton, but the updated version is somewhat more Republican than the current CA-9. The Congressman would have been favored for re-election, however.
Immediately upon McNerney’s announcement, Rep. Josh Harder (D-Turlock), who had decided to seek re-election in the new 13th District after his current 10th District was divided into various parts under the new redistricting plan, declared that he will run to succeed the retiring congressman. The 9th CD is slightly more Democratic than the CA-13, but it is still cast as a relatively competitive general election seat.
With Rep. Harder abandoning his re-election plans in CA-13, state Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) quickly announced that he will run for Congress in the suddenly open district that stretches north to south from Modesto to Fresno through Merced and Madera Counties.
California’s Central Valley is in a state of political flux. With the special election for resigned Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-Tulare) underway in the neighboring current 22nd District and the candidates having no place to run in the regular election, the 13th District could now become an attractive landing spot for one or more of the GOP special election contenders.
A Republican will be an underdog in the new 13th, but at least the candidate would have a fighting chance to win a full term and the opportunity of seeking re-election if successful.
Former Rep. Nunes’ CA-22, a Republican seat that occupies parts of Fresno and Tulare Counties, was torn to pieces as part of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission plan, as was Rep. Harder’s CD in the agricultural region’s northern section. As a result, a Republican district, numbered 5, was created northeast of Fresno to the outskirts of Sacramento that Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) will claim. This is where Rep. Nunes would have run for re-election had he stayed in Congress.
Two swing Democratic districts, the aforementioned 9th and 13th, and two stronger Democratic seats — the 21st that contains downtown Fresno where Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) will seek re-election, and the new 22nd District to the west from where Republican Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) is endangered in the general election — were also created.
Despite what looked to be a seat that would only yield one six-month term in Congress, several strong candidates have emerged. Former state Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig, and businesswoman and 2018 congressional candidate Elizabeth Heng comprise the Republican field, while financial advisor Phil Arballo, who challenged Rep. Nunes in 2020, raised over $5.1 million and held the congressman to a 54-46 percent re-election victory, is the clear Democratic front runner.
The special election is scheduled for April 5 in a jungle ballot format. If no one receives majority support, the top two finishers, regardless of political affiliation, will advance to a runoff election on June 7, concurrent with the regular California primary. The special election candidate filing deadline is Feb. 10, and the deadline for the regular election a month later, on March 11. Therefore, decisions will soon be made.
Rep. McNerney’s retirement announcement not only affects his own career but appears to be charting the political future of several other individuals up and down California’s Central Valley.
RI-2Saying he’s been “burning the candle at both ends and needs a change,” RI-2 Rep. Langevin also announced that he will not seek re-election later this year.
For a long while, it appeared that Rhode Island would lose a congressional seat in national reapportionment and revert to at-large status. Instead of running against fellow Democratic Rep. David Cicilline (D-Providence), Langevin indicated that he would consider a bid for governor should his seat be collapsed. When reapportionment did not take Rhode Island’s 2nd District, it appeared that the congressman would again have an easy run for re-election.
However, Langevin will become the 28th House Democrat not to seek re-election, and RI-2 will now be the 49th open seat for the regular election. The open seat number includes incumbents not seeking re-election, new districts through reapportionment, and created seats from various redistricting plans.
Democrats will hold this Ocean State congressional seat, but we can expect a competitive party primary late in the year. The Rhode Island primary is not scheduled until Sept. 13. Therefore, this primary contest has much time to develop.