Republicans Vying for Nunes Seat Hew Close to His Legacy
FRESNO, Calif. — The four Republicans running to serve out the unexpired term of former Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., have a number of things in common.
They’re all for stricter voting laws, would likely try to defund schools that allegedly teach critical race theory, and most say they’d support a re-election bid by former President Donald Trump.
“I’m not here to replace Devin Nunes. I’m here to finish up what he started,” said Michael Maher, a businessman, at a candidate forum hosted by the Fresno County Republican Party.
And that sentiment was echoed by former state Assembly member Connie Conway, entrepreneurs Elizabeth Heng and Matthew Stoll, who all hope special election voters will afford them the chance to fill out Nunes’ term.
Nunes, of course, set off the April 5 primary contest with his resignation from Congress in January to join Trump’s new social media venture.
If no candidate gets a majority of the vote in the all-party primary, the top two finishers will face each other again on June 7, when California holds its general election primaries.
And that’s when things could get interesting. The special election will be the last electoral contest to use the old map of California’s 22nd Congressional District. In November, a new map will be used with boundaries considered much more favorable to a Democrat winning the seat.
According to the nonpartisan FiveThirtyEight website, the changes to the map caused the district to go from Republican-leaning district (R+11) to a Democraic leaning one (D+16).
At the candidate forum in Fresno, Maher, Stoll and Conway all said they would whole-heartedly support Trump if he chooses to run for president again in 2024.
Heng, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign, told the 200 attendees at the event that she would rather wait and see how the Republican presidential primaries play out.
“I actually believe in having primaries and discussions and for people to earn the support of our elected candidates,” she said.
Still, she said she thought Trump would be a great candidate, as would Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, among others.
All four candidates said they support an audit of the 2020 presidential elections results and emphasized implementing more restrictive voting measures.
The seat has been an important stronghold for the Republican party since Nunes’s first election to Congress in 2002.
During the Fresno forum, all four candidates weighed in on the GOP’s position on everything from stricter voter rules to critical race theory in schools and abortion, but also said they will focus just as much to issues impacting California’s central San Joaquin Valley directly, like the need for better access to fresh water and economic development.
All spoke of how important it is to win against the “radical left” and the “progressives agenda.”
The Democrat in the race is Rep. Jim Costa, who announced last year that he would run in the new 21st District.
Costa has served in Congress since 2013 and currently represents the 16th District, which neighbors Nunes’ former district.
Costa is widely expected to ultimately win the seat, which many political analysts say has already been “flipped” Democratic due to its new contours.
The same analysts also say Nunes would have likely had a tough reelection battle ahead of him in the new district, precisely because he was so aligned with Trump.
As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee from 2015 to 2019, he led an investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election that concluded there was no evidence of collusion with Trump’s campaign.
Nunes also defended the former president during the first impeachment trial in 2019.
Trump later awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom praising Nunes for helping to “thwart a plot to take down a sitting United States president” through the Russia investigation.
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