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Can California Republican who voted to impeach Trump avoid Liz Cheney’s fate?

Mercury News 8/18/2022 Julia Prodis Sulek, Bay Area News Group

And then there were two.

A day after Wyoming Republican primary voters booted Liz Cheney from her congressional seat, only two of the 10 GOP members of Congress who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection remain clinging to their seats.

One is from eastern Washington. The other is from California’s Central Valley — David Valadao, a dairy farmer from Hanford who despite his Republican bonafides has — like Cheney — unleashed the venom of his fellow farmers and ranchers, and relatives, too, for what they consider an unforgivable act of betrayal.

Valadao barely beat back two other Republican primary opponents in June. But in a purple district recently redrawn with even more Democratic voters, Valadao’s chances to beat moderate Democratic Assembly Member Rudy Salas in November are at risk.

And the GOP die-hards who vowed to never cast another ballot for Valadao are finding themselves in a difficult predicament: With control of the House of Representatives at stake, will they break their vow and vote for Valadao?

“It’s a tough thing that everybody’s cussing about,” said Todd Cotta, a Hanford gun store owner who joined about nine of his buddies at the Overland Stockyards cafe for breakfast Wednesday as he does every morning at 6 a.m. “You have dog crap on one plate and cat crap on the other plate. Which one you gonna eat?”

Of 10 Republican House members who voted to impeach Trump, four opted out of running for re-election and four, including Cheney, lost in primaries to Trump-backed challengers. That leaves Dan Newhouse, of Washington, and Valadao — the only two who survived their primaries and are headed to November elections against Democrats.

“The open question now is will Trump Republicans not pleased with Valadao for his vote on impeachment sit on their hands come November?” said Bill Whalen, a GOP strategist and Hoover Institution fellow. “They will not vote for the Democratic alternative, but will they just not take part in the election and just sit it out?”

Trump at first set his sights on all 10 Republicans who voted to impeach him in January 2021, gloating after the first two announced they weren’t seeking reelection last year “2 down, 8 to go!”

And while Trump took a vocal role in supporting Cheney’s Republican opponent, Harriet Hageman, who will likely win in November, he has been noticeably silent about Valadao. He declined to endorse Valadao’s primary opponent and MAGA candidate Chris Mathys.

GOP political consultant Dan Schnur gives credit to Valadao’s congressional neighbor, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, for protecting Valadao from Trump’s overt wrath.

“More than anything, it speaks to the friendship between Valadao and Kevin McCarthy,” Schnur said. In Cheney’s Wyoming district, “the Republican is going to win a general election campaign, no matter what. But McCarthy must have made it clear to Trump that a more extreme Republican candidate couldn’t carry this district, and so laying off of Valadao was the smarter move.”

Valadao’s district, which runs toward Fresno and touches parts of Bakersfield, voted for President Biden by double digits.

So how significant is Valadao’s seat anyway?

Despite recent hype about President Biden’s legislative successes and hope that a backlash to a burgeoning anti-abortion movement will help Democrats, expectations remain high among Republicans that they will take back the House come the midterms. The GOP needs only about a half dozen seats to win back the majority.

“When the House is this closely contested,” Schnur said, “every single seat matters. So both national parties are going to put an immense amount of time and effort into this district.”

The closely watched Cook Political Report rates the race as a toss-up in a district that now leans toward the Democrats. But Valadao had spent three times more than Salas in the campaign as of June 30, according to the latest fundraising reports, and had $1.7 million in contributions, more than double his Democratic opponent.

Just as Trump has been quiet about Valadao, Valadao has been quiet about Trump, avoiding any talk of his impeachment vote or the January 6 hearings and emphasizing local issues about water and health care instead.

The opposite is true when it came to Cheney, who made her reelection campaign a referendum against Trump. She not only voted to impeach him, she is the leading Republican on the Jan. 6 committee attempting to expose Trump’s role in the storming of the Capitol and persistent lies about a stolen election.

On Tuesday, in her concession speech, Cheney told supporters, “I have said since Jan. 6 that I will do whatever it takes to ensure Donald Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office — and I mean it.”

She hinted at her own presidential run in 2024 and told NBC News that defeating Trump will require “a broad and united front of Republicans, Democrats and independents — and that’s what I intend to be part of.”

Cheney’s 35-point loss Tuesday was greeted with glee at Overland Stockyards on Wednesday morning.

“They are over the moon that Cheney is done,” Cotta said. “That’s a beautiful thing.”

But what will this group of Republicans do come November? Will they, after all, vote for Valadao?

“It’s gonna have to be David,” Cotta said. “Although it’s going to be like getting into the litter box. But I have to vote for David.”

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