(CN) — Former congressman David Valadao is headed back to Congress after reclaiming his Central California House seat from incumbent Democrat T.J. Cox in a nail-biting rematch of their 2018 race.
In his bid for reelection, Valadao had characterized the Nov. 3 race as being bigger than any candidate or political party and said he had the experience to lead the 21st Congressional District.
In his message to voters, Valadao leaned — as he has in the past — on his background as a Latino and a son of immigrants and touted his moderate stance on immigration.
Valadao declared victory in a statement on Wednesday.
“This Thanksgiving, as the coronavirus continues to spread and our community and nation struggle, we desperately need relief,” he said. “The only way we will get through this is by sticking together as Americans, not divided by political parties. When I head back to Washington every resident of the Central Valley has my word that I will continue to always put this community first.”
Valadao had 50.6% of the vote over Cox, who has 49.4%, according to California election data. He led Cox by 2,065 votes as of Monday, down from a lead of more than 4,000 votes last week. By Friday, he had more than 1,500 votes over Cox.
With Valadao’s victory, the GOP has now captured four House seats won by Democrats in 2018. In the 25th Congressional District, Rep. Mike Garcia retained his seat after defeating Democratic lawmaker Christy Smith.
Cox shocked the nation in 2018 when he flipped the GOP stronghold for Democrats and helped them win control of the House.
In a statement on Thursday, Cox said he would wait for final numbers to come in before conceding the race.
In 2018, the hotly contested race was one of the seven congressional seats targeted by Democrats after Hillary Clinton carried the district, which is dominated by the agriculture industry.
Valadao, who is of Portuguese descent, had been declared the winner on election night in 2018 by major news outlets including The Associated Press before Cox closed the gap. In the end, the Central Valley congressional seat was the seventh House seat flipped by Democrats in the Golden State.
Having avoided a last-minute upset this time, Valadao will again serve a district covering Kings County and portions of Fresno, Kern, and Tulare counties in California’s Central Valley.
Before the general election, Valadao released a campaign ad featuring an undocumented Central Valley resident who praised Valadao’s support for the DREAM Act, which in part provides a pathway to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants.
President Donald Trump, who is deeply unpopular in California, has gone back on his word to defend so-called Dreamers, a move Valadao has sought to distance himself from.
On the campaign trail, Cox has defended his record in Congress and painted Valadao as a rubber stamp for the Trump agenda. He pointed to his record of defending Medicare and Social Security benefits for seniors and his vote for the American Dream and Promise Act, which extends a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients.
Valadao was endorsed by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.
The NRCC’s Twitter account description says the organization is “dedicated to defeating the socialist Democrats” and reclaiming control of the House for Republicans.