Cox declares victory after adding to lead over Valadao in last contested Congressional race

Fresno Democrat TJ Cox increased his lead Wednesday over incumbent David Valadao in their race for California’s 21st Congressional District seat, and while the lead is a slim one at 529 votes it suggests Cox will win the contest when all votes are counted.

Kings and Fresno counties each processed all of their remaining uncounted ballots on Wednesday. Cox now leads the Hanford Republican 56,634 votes to 56,105. Cox had moved into the lead Monday.

The Cox campaign declared victory.

The race appears to be decided, as only a small amount of votes remain to be processed in Kern and Tulare counties.

The 21st is the last contested Congressional race in the country. If the lead for Cox holds as now expected, it means Democrats will have gained 40 seats in the mid-term election.

Kings County processed about 1,500 uncounted ballots since the last vote totals were released in the week before the Thanksgiving Day holiday. All of them were in the 21st because the entire county is in the congressional district, while parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties make up the rest of the district.

Kings County has no uncounted ballots remaining, but voters have until Friday to correct reject ballots. As such, a handful of votes may be added next week.

Fresno County also reported no outstanding ballots remain. A manual audit of the ballots is underway, and the county is expected to certify its numbers on Monday.

As of October, voter registration in the 21st was 43 percent Democratic and 27 percent Republican. Despite the numbers favoring Democrats, Valadao won handily in 2016, 2014 and 2012, the year he was first elected.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee declared a Cox victory after Wednesday’s Kings County update.

“Congratulations to TJ Cox and all his supporters in this historic win in the heart of the Central Valley,” chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement. “The DCCC was proud to stand with TJ as he flipped this seat by focusing on his record of delivering affordable healthcare and good-paying jobs to the Central Valley.”

Cox’s campaign followed suit, declaring victory several hours later.

“I am elated to announce that we have won the election for California’s 21st Congressional District,” Cox said. “Voters across the district resonated with our message of expanding health care, creating good jobs and fighting for our families’ futures.”

Cox thanked Valadao and his family for six years of service to the Valley.

The Bee sought a comment from Valadao. His campaign asked to first see Cox’s statement, which The Bee provided, but hadn’t responded by late afternoon Wednesday.

On Monday, Kern County processed about 8,000 uncounted ballots, nearly 1,900 of which were in the 21st. A little under 3,000 ballots remain to be counted in Kern, where Cox has substantially outperformed Valadao by securing 61 percent of the vote to date.

Cox was well behind when Election Day totals were announced but by last week had closed his losing margin to 447 votes. Valadao led by about 5,000 on election night three weeks ago, causing analysts and major news outlets to call the race for Valadao.

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The lead is far from set in stone, as Fresno County has thousands of outstanding ballots to be counted in the next few days. But the vote has broken almost dead even between the two candidates.

As a result, it appears Cox is on his way to delivering Democrats their 40th flipped seat – one that analysts and news media called for Valadao on election night and have had to backtrack.

Valadao has done well in his home area, pulling in about 63 percent of the vote. However, his margin of victory in Kings, all of which falls in the 21st, has actually decreased in recent updates. He was previously pulling in two-thirds of the vote.

The election must be certified by Dec. 7.