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Can A Progressive Win A Rural Toss-Up Congressional District?



California’s 21st congressional district is politically unique. David Valadao, a Republican who voted to impeach Trump yet voted with him just about every time in his previous term, represents the district in Congress again. What makes the district even more unique is that it was one of the nine congressional districts that overwhelmingly voted for Biden. Yet, it elected a Republican to the House of Representatives. It held the largest Biden to congressional representative margin gap from those nine districts-- a staggering 11.8%.


A progressive platform and aggressive ground game will close this gap. Which is why Blue America has endorsed Bryan Osorio, the mayor of Delano.

The basics of the districts are pretty simple, and at first glance, one might think that CA-21 is a safe Democratic seat (a D+5 district), but recycled, generalized platforms in a struggling district do not inspire voters. The district is one of the most heavily Hispanic and Latino districts in the country and one of the youngest districts in the nation. It ranks 14th in terms of its Latino population, and the median age is roughly 30. But these young voters of color are some of the most challenging demographics to turn out to the polls. In the last midterm election, there was an overall 32% voter turnout in this district. For context, the lowest rate in 2018 was in an Arizona congressional district, where there was a 29% voter turnout.


Because of the conservative leaders elected in the Central Valley, this district’s voters are deemed as conservative Democrats, yet voters rarely have a choice. Across the Central Valley, during election season, it’s either a Republican with Trump values or a Democrat with Republican values. This is a home of the Republican wing of the Democratic Party. Consequently, Central Valley voters are catered to as conservative Democrats, which does not motivate new voters to head to the polls and sustains the myth that it takes a conservative Democrat to win the district. But what happens when a candidate with a progressive platform runs in the district to inspire and motivate young Hispanic voters to vote?


To answer this question, we just need to look at some recent case studies. In the 2020 California presidential primary, Bernie Sanders, arguably one of the most progressive politicians in the United States, outperformed his opponents. In CA-21, Bernie came in first with 43.2% of the vote, with his closest opponent at 25%. This victory of a nationally recognized progressive win in CA-21 is not a one-time occurrence. In 2018, the district overwhelmingly voted for the progressive U.S. Senate challenger, Kevin De Leon, over Republican-lite Senator Dianne Feinstein by 14 points.


Why do these voters overwhelmingly, when presented with a progressive platform, vote for the progressive? Because voters in the district know they deserves better. It stands to benefit from progressive proposals like Medicare for All because they are needed to solve some of the most significant systemic issues facing their communities, and they know that. For example, about a decade ago, almost 20% of residents in the district were uninsured, which was well over the national average. Because of the Affordable Care Act, which Valadao voted to repeal, there have been significant strides in reducing the gap. However, more can be done to reduce the uninsurance rate and the often overlooked underinsured rate. Osorio is running on that. His 3 conservative opponents-- Valadao (R), Nicole Parra (right-wing fence jumper) and Rudy Salas (quasi-D)-- have been hostile to expanded health coverage for their entire careers and all willing, eager captivates of the corporate donor class. Being uninsured in America means fewer diagnostic and therapeutic services, higher mortality rates, and a host of other unjust and immoral actions. Medicare for All would expand healthcare coverage, eliminate fees, shorten wait times, lower drug prescription prices, and improve job freedom. All of these changes are benefits that our district needs and deserves.


Immigration is also one of the most urgent issues facing the district, especially with a foreign-born population of nearly 30%. The topic of immigration is a sensitive issue for many families and possibly why most of the candidates in this race will support a pathway towards citizenship for farmworkers and DACA residents. But we have seen that this is not enough. The district was traumatized in 2018 by the fatal pursuit of Santos Hilario Garcia and Marcelina Garcia by ICE agents. Their deaths and subsequent fallout prove that we need to enforce accountability and that there is no reform for agencies that separate families and are responsible for immigrant deaths. We also need to end contracts with private detention centers, especially when there was expansion last year in a rural community within the district. We will only see how plausible these immigration policies are by electing a progressive to Congress.


It's crucial to overcome the notion that rural districts or competitive districts cannot elect a candidate running forthrightly on a progressive platform. The progressive agenda is popular-- especially among Democrats-- and well-liked by the public. It is up to all of us to support a campaign that is advocating the progressive issues districts like this need. Please consider clicking on the thermometer on the left and contributing what you can to Bryan Osorio's grassroots campaign. There is no such thing as a contribution too small.