Six California House races that could help determine control of Congress

In a heavily agricultural San Joaquin Valley district that encompasses all of Merced County and parts of Fresno, Madera, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, Republican Rep. John Duarte of Modesto will once again face off against Adam Gray after narrowly vanquishing the Democrat in 2022.

Two years ago, this was the second-closest House race in the nation, with Duarte winning by just 564 votes. It will be one of the most avidly watched races in the country again this year.

“Right now, the single most vulnerable Republican incumbent is John Duarte, in my view,” Wasserman said of the California races.

“Adam Gray came within a hair of winning the seat [in 2022]. Duarte is not yet as established a political brand as [David] Valadao,” Wasserman explained, comparing the freshman representative to his five-term GOP counterpart to the south. “And in a presidential cycle, this district ought to vote for a Democrat.”

The district had low Democratic turnout in 2022 but favored Biden by 11 points in 2020, according to data from California Target Book.

Wasserman stressed that there were still open questions about the strength of Biden’s support among Latino voters. A scenario where Trump manages to make inroads with those voters would favor Duarte, Wasserman said.

The district has a slight Latino majority, with white voters also accounting for nearly 40% of the electorate, according to data from California Target Book. It includes cities like Madera, Ceres and Merced and portions of Modesto and Turlock, as well as rural swaths of the San Joaquin Valley.

Despite Biden’s double-digit margin of victory in 2020, Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Dahle beat Gov. Gavin Newsom by more than eight points in the district in 2022, a partisan see-sawing that speaks to the large number of independent voters in the district as well as strong Republican turnout in the 2022 midterms.

As of late February, Democrats held a 13-percentage-point registration advantage, while no party preference voters made up more than a fifth of the electorate.

Gray significantly outraised Duarte in the most recent filing period ending on March 31, but Duarte still has more cash on hand, with $1.8 million, to Gray’s $1.2 million reserve, according to federal filings.

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