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Assemblyman Rudy Salas, 45, is running against incumbent Rep. David Valadao for the newly drawn congressional district 22.

Chaos in California’s 22nd

In a critical battleground California House race, both Democrats and Republicans are scrambling to make sure their preferred candidate makes it through the primary.

In 2022, Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) beat Democrat Rudy Salas by three points in California’s 22nd District — a seat that voted for President Joe Biden by 13 points in 2020.

But a rematch is no sure thing. There’s a real fear among members of both parties that they may not get their favored candidate through California’s top-two primary next month.

Republican worries: The top House GOP super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into ads protecting Valadao from a MAGA challenger. That GOP opponent, Chris Mathys, came within 1,200 votes of beating Valadao and advancing to the general election.

“We’re taking no chances. We will do whatever it takes to ensure Rep. Valadao is successful in his primary,” CLF President Dan Conston told us in a statement. The CLF ad accuses Mathys of being “soft on crime.”

Mathys started running ads in the district recently that sharply criticize Valadao for voting to impeach former President Donald Trump following the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Valadao, one of the more moderate members of the House GOP Conference, is seen as the only Republican who can win in the Democratic-leaning district.

Democratic headaches: The DCCC took the unusual step of running joint ads with the Salas campaign in the primary in a sign of how highly Democrats rate the former California state legislator. Democrats view flipping the district blue as critical for winning back the majority.

This week, Salas’ campaign started running negative ads dinging Democratic California state Sen. Melissa Hurtado on abortion rights. The spot claims Hurtado — who has high name identification levels in the district — skipped key votes on this issue. Hurtado said Salas should be “ashamed” of the attack ad and touted her Planned Parenthood rating.

House Majority PAC, CLF’s Democratic counterpart, also started airing Spanish-language ads touting Salas this week. HMP is putting $850,000 into ads between now and the March 5 primary.

“With this investment, House Majority PAC is sending a strong and clear message that Democrats are committed to reclaiming the majority this November,” HMP President Mike Smith said in a statement.

— Max Cohen

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.