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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Nunes’s House Seat Goes to Runoff; Ex-Trump Official in Lead

'We look forward to Conway’s victory in June as a welcome preview of what November will bring when the path to the GOP majority in the House will run straight through our state...'

(Headline USA) Former Trump administration appointee Connie Conway has advanced to a June runoff in a California special election to fill a U.S. House seat left vacant after Republican Rep. Devin Nunes resigned to lead former President Donald Trump’s media company.

The seat in the state’s Central Valley—sometimes called the nation’s salad bowl because of its agricultural production—is expected to stay in Republican hands.

But because no candidate was able to claim a majority of the vote, a runoff between the top two finishers will coincide with the statewide primary election June 7.

The race for the second runoff spot was too early to call after election officials paused counting early Wednesday morning—a tactic often deployed by blue states to ensure a Democrat victory in areas where practices like ballot-harvesting are the norm.

Since the runoff is between the two top vote-getters regardless of party affiliation, it is feasible that another Republican could be on it. There are six candidates on the ballot—four Republicans and two Democrats.

Completing the vote count will take at least a week, because mail ballots can arrive as late as April 12. Officials said they would not release additional results until Thursday in Tulare County and Friday in Fresno County, both in the district.

Nunes’s 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 vanish next year because of redrawn boundaries.

If Conway eventually triumphs, Nunes’s replacement also would have ties to the former president: Conway served as the California executive director of the Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency during the Trump administration.

Conway, a one-time GOP leader in the state Assembly and a former county supervisor, opened a gap over five other competitors with about 34% of the vote, according to a preliminary tally of ballots.

The election in the Republican-leaning 22nd District has been largely ignored as national Democrats and Republicans fixate on midterm elections that will determine control of Congress in 2023.

Mail-in voting started last month, and early returns pointed to a sparse turnout. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic dominating headlines, campaigns say voters they contact are sometimes surprised to find out an election is taking place, or are not aware that Nunes, a prominent Trump loyalist while in Congress, had resigned.

In a statement, California Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson congratulated Conway and added, “Voters in the 22nd Congressional District know that Conway is the right candidate to represent their values in Washington. … We look forward to Conway’s victory in June as a welcome preview of what November will bring when the path to the GOP majority in the House will run straight through our state.”

Several rivals were clustered behind her, including Democrats Lourin Hubbard, a manager for the state Department of Water Resources; and Eric Garcia, a Marine and Iraq War veteran; and Republican Matt Stoll, a former Navy combat pilot and small-business owner.

Hubbard was the closest contender to Conway, with about 20% of the vote.

Other candidates include Republicans Elizabeth Heng, a tech executive who lost a run for Congress in a neighboring district in 2018 and briefly ran for U.S. Senate; and Michael Maher, a Navy veteran and former FBI special agent.

Different agendas are in play. Conway, if elected, plans to serve only the remainder of Nunes’ term. However, Garcia, Maher and Stoll also are running in the June statewide primary in a newly drawn district—the 21st—that includes a slab of Nunes’ territory.

A runoff would be politically tricky for Garcia, Maher or Stoll. In that 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 starts in 2023. Voters easily could be confused seeing the same name twice.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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