A Republican farmer and businessman defeated a Democratic congressman in one of the closest congressional elections in the country.
John Duarte of Modesto edged past Adam Gray of Merced in California’s 13th Congressional District, The Associated Press reported Friday night.
A few minutes ago, Gray said he was conceded to Duarte in the left Central Valley district.
Duarte, 56, will join the slim Republican majority in the US House of Representatives. As of Friday night, the GOP was is projected apply for 221 seats. Democrats were expected to get 213. There is another unnamed House race; led by a Republican.
The Duarte Nursery co-founder had 50.2% of the vote with about 99% counted when the AP called the race. Duarte, whose team was prepared to declare his victory Monday, ahead of Gray by four-tenths of a point — 565 votes — after Fresno County recounted the vote.
“The voters elected me as their congressman, and I’m honored to go and fight for the 13th district,” Duarte told The Bee on Monday at a hotel near Capitol Hill, where the second round of selection was being held this week. .
The back-and-forth race began with Gray, 45, leading on election night. Duarte took office for almost a week. Gray then led briefly. Duarte came out on top and has held his ground until now.
Duarte emphasized his desire to increase access to water for farmers and families in the valley, extract more American oil and fight inflation with more focus on government spending.
Descended from a farming family in the Central Valley, Duarte started his plant growing business in Houston with his brother. The Republican said his family — his parents, brother, wife and four children — have helped him in everything from a kitchen-table businessman to a congressional campaign.
Duarte has previously rallied farmers and conservatives around him, fighting a lawsuit over environmental regulations. In 2016, a judge ruled that he violated a provision of the Clean Water Act known as “Waters of the United States” by blowing up protective wetlands on his property.
The California Republican said he planted winter wheat in a Tehama County field, as previous property owners had done. He and his associates said it was about the government interfering in agriculture. Government officials said the field had not been plowed in more than two decades and that Duarte needed a permit before tearing up his seasonal wetlands, which served as habitat for plants and animals.
He said he was settled down before the fines court in 2017 to avoid costs that would put his business and workers at risk.
Duarte said he hopes his perspective as one of the few farmers and businessmen in Congress will lead to more support for the needs of the Central Valley.
“A lot of it just involves evaluating what it takes to run a business, to make a payroll,” Duarte said, “and knowing what it takes to produce a crop, to own a family farming business, to grow that business, to know when take risks and experience some risks.’
Both Duarte and Gray protested Sacramento’s water policy. Gray has represented Merced, where he was born and raised, in the Assembly since 2012. A self-proclaimed “radical centrist,” the moderate Democrat has championed water access and public safety, such as by providing funds for Merced VIPER program to combat gang violence.
Gray teaches at UC Merced, the university where he lobbied to establish a medical school program.
“Whether or not I’m elected, I will never stop fighting for the Valley,” Gray said in a statement announcing his resignation.
California’s 13th congressional district, created by a once-a-decade redistricting process, runs from Lathrop beyond Caalinga in the purple stretch of Central Valley farmland. Voters there would support President Joe Biden by 11 percentage points in the 2020 presidential election. There are more registered Democrats than Republicans.
The 13th District race has gone from leaning Democratic to a toss-up to favoring Republicans in the eyes of many independents analysts. They all agreed that the election, one of the last scheduled, would be close.
While a predicted nationwide “red wave” never materialized in the 2022 midterm elections, the disdain for Democrats in Sacramento and Washington has left many San Joaquin Valley voters leaning Republican, according to pre-election interviews. Historical voting trends pointed to the problems that the Democrats will face there.
In other recently named California races, a member of the team Kevin Kyle, R-Rocklin, defeated Dr. Kermit Jones, a Democrat, in the 3rd Congressional District. Rep. David ValadaoR-Hanford, defeated challenger Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, in the district south of the 13th.
Duarte said he will begin his term by reaching out to more California congressmen like Valadao, another farmer-businessman who “represents a very similar district with very similar bipartisan needs as the 13th.”
He hopes to work with the Agriculture and Natural Resources committees to bolster American production of such goods, saying “until we have the wealth, we won’t have the affordability.”
“This is not a partisan issue,” Duarte said. “It’s just a reality that American families are facing right now.”
This story was originally published December 2, 2022 at 7:07 p.m.