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In California’s final congressional race, Republican John Duarte wins Central Valley seat – Boston Herald


Seema Mehta

Republican farmer John Duarte won an open congressional seat in the Central Valley, defeating Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray despite Democrats’ strong voter registration advantage in the district.

The Associated Press called the race Friday, though official results will take longer. The race was the final congressional contest in California to be called and adds to Republicans’ slim majority in the House in the next Congress.

No incumbent chose to run in the heavily agricultural 13th Congressional District, adjusted in the decennial redrawing of maps to include all of Merced County and parts of several others. Democrats have a 14.3-percentage-point voter registration edge, but low turnout among Democrats and Latinos — who make up slightly more than 50% of the population that is eligible to vote — as well as the independent nature of politics in the region have made races unpredictable here.

Both candidates pressed their local roots and independent bona fides during the campaign.

Gray, who was elected to the Assembly in 2012, called himself a “radical centrist” who worked across party lines. The Merced native noted that he lost legislative committee assignments because of his views and highlighted his unsuccessful bill to suspend the state’s gas tax.

Duarte, 56, is a fourth-generation farmer from Modesto whose family nursery — one of the biggest in the nation — grows almonds, pistachios and grapes. His fight with the federal government over allegations that he damaged wetlands to plant wheat drew the support of conservatives concerned about overreach by federal agencies. Duarte ultimately settled and paid $1.1 million.

While the two men’s political leanings differ, they do agree on one of the most pressing issues in the district — water. They both worked to oppose the Delta tunnel plan that would have slashed water supplies to farmers in the region.

And unlike some other congressional contests in the state, the candidates were relatively congenial during their race. Both men were asked to say something nice about their rival during a recent debate.

Gray called Duarte “a friendly guy” whose “heart is in the right place.”

Duarte said Gray was “a respectable, pleasant guy” who was sincere and has “worked hard for the community.”

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