San Joaquin Valley’s congressional seats would be scrambled if legislative boundaries drawn by California’s redistricting commission look the way that they do in new drafts released this week. Reps. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, and Josh Harder, D-Turlock, could lose their seats in the United States House of Representatives, unless they decide to run in different districts than the ones they hold today. An editor for The Cook Political Report, which tracks elections, wrote on Twitter that Nunes’ district would turn from having voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020 by five percentage points to one that backed President Joe Biden by nine.
The district Harder would run in, assuming he wants to continue representing Turlock and Modesto, would go from having voted for Biden by three percentage points to Trump by 10. The new legislative maps created through redistricting — a once-a-decade task meant to better match population changes to voting districts found by the Census — are far from final and could change dramatically based on constituent feedback.
Maps released on Wednesday were the first official rough drafts of what the state could look like at the end of December when the commission in charge must send its proposal to California’s secretary of state for certification. California lost a seat in the U.S. House because of sluggish population growth in the state’s north and south, dropping its legislative delegation to 52. New lines must absorb that lost seat while following rules for districts’ shape, population and demographic interests as well as aspects of the Voting Rights Act that afford minority groups the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice in a number of districts. “We really cleared the map and redrew based on our criteria and didn’t take an eye toward where that seat would come from or who it would be that wouldn’t go back to Congress next year,” Sara Sadhwani, one of the Democratic commissioners charged with redrawing lines, told The Fresno Bee.
Rep. Josh Harder’s district is unrecognizable
Harder’s current district, California’s 10th congressional district, is centered on Modesto and Stanislaus County. The new draft would remove Modesto entirely and tack it onto a length of the Sierra Nevada and Sierra foothills. That leaves Harder with three logical options. He could run in the Sierra Nevada district — which has part of Turlock and borders Nevada — as mentioned by The Cook Political Report editor, Dave Wasserman. Republicans would have an advantage in that district.
Harder could run in a district that would contain the other half of Turlock. That district would stretch from Patterson through Fresno and past Coalinga. It is likely that Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, would want to run there. Or Harder could abandon Modesto and Turlock and go north to challenge fellow Democrat Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, for a district that contains Tracy, Stockton and Lodi. California candidates do not have to live in the districts that they run in. Harder was already one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the 2022 House elections, some experts said, even though only a handful of competitors without political experience have entered the race for his seat. It is unclear how redistricting will change that. Harder has represented the 10th congressional district since 2018, when he ousted Republican incumbent Rep. Jeff Denham.
The new map splits Fresno, a city with 525,000 residents, three ways. It would leave one part with Costa. It would give Nunes another slice. And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, would get a stretch of Fresno, too. Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, would get a district that stretches from Stratford, on Highway 41 south of Lemoore, through Bakersfield. But that would also make Nunes’ district very blue. While Valadao and McCarthy would each have a Republican district, Nunes would be better off in the Sierra Nevada district relegated to Harder, Wasserman wrote.
The proposed 22nd congressional district, where Nunes currently sits, would also take Lemoore and steal Hanford from Valadao. It otherwise has a largely rural stretch down to Strathmore, just north of Porterville. Nunes has represented the 22nd congressional district since 2013, when redistricting altered it. He held the equivalent seat since 2003. The congressman consistently won re-election by more than 20 percentage points until Trump took office in 2017 and Nunes gained a reputation as the former president’s ally. In 2018, Democratic challenger Andrew Janz came within six percentage points of Nunes; in 2020, Democratic opponent Phil Arballo came within nine. Nunes has four Democratic challengers in the Tulare district so far, including Arballo.
“The commission’s proposed map is further evidence that Nunes’ time being a lousy representative of California’s 22nd district will be over soon,” said Ryan Mulcahy, Arballo’s campaign manager, in a statement on Thursday. Still, McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, predicted that Democratic representatives whose districts went to Biden by up to 16 percentage points are in danger of losing their seats based on nationwide elections last week that swung for Republicans in Virginia, New Jersey and other states. With that logic, Nunes would be safe in a 22nd district that looks like the proposed redraw. Preliminary visualizations for legislative boundaries released last month also showed tougher elections for Nunes and Harder, but changes were not as detrimental to them as they are in these maps. The independent redistricting commission is composed of 14 people who are not affiliated with political organizations. California switched to using this commission prior to the last redistricting process to discourage gerrymandering, the practice of drawing lines to favor a political party. This cycle’s commission is composed of five Republicans, five Democrats and four people who are not affiliated with either party.
The commission will take public input in a meeting on Nov. 17 and is collecting feedback in the interim.