A previous version of this article misidentified one of the PACs supporting Elizabeth Heng's campaign. It was the Value in Electing Women PAC, not Rep. Elise Stefanik's (R-N.Y.) Elevate PAC. The article has been corrected.
Neither Conway nor Hubbard is running for a full term in November. Tuesday marked the last election under the district’s current lines; voters will choose candidates in newly drawn districts starting in June.
Completing the vote count will take several more days; under state law, mail ballots can arrive as late as April 12 if postmarked by Tuesday.
With most ballots counted, the total for Republicans was about 30 percentage points ahead of the total for Democrats, a double-digit improvement for the GOP since 2020.
California’s 22nd Congressional District stretches from eastern Fresno southward into some of the state’s biggest farming communities. As the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes became a national figure in his party and a target for Democrats, raising $12.7 million for his 2018 reelection and $26.8 million ahead of his 2020 win.
The candidates running to replace Nunes, in both parties, have raised a small fraction of that, and both Republican and Democratic national committees have largely ignored the race. While the district shifted left during Donald Trump’s presidency, giving the ex-president 52 percent of the vote in 2020 and 2016, it was pulled apart by the state’s nonpartisan redistricting commission.
Three of the candidates on Tuesday’s ballot are not running for any seat in November. None is running in the new, and more Democratic, 22nd Congressional District. Three candidates — Republican Navy veteran and small-business owner Matt Stoll, Republican Navy veteran and ex-FBI agent Michael Maher, and Democratic Marine veteran Eric Garcia — are separately running in the new, and safely Democratic, 21st Congressional District, where Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) is seeking reelection.
“The fact that one of these relative unknowns will get to put congressman or congresswoman on their resume is, frankly, kinda nuts,” Fresno Bee columnist Marek Warszawski wrote last month, calling Tuesday’s election the “least consequential in recent memory.”
That’s largely how donors have viewed it. Elizabeth Heng, who ran unsuccessfully for a different House seat in 2018, topped the field with about $215,000 raised and support from the Value In Electing Women PAC and Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s (R-Ill.) Country First PAC. But after a February candidate forum, the Fresno GOP split its endorsement between two candidates: Stoll and Conway, a former GOP leader in the state Assembly, who also said she would serve out Nunes’s term and retire.
“I’m seeking this opportunity to serve and finish the term,” Conway told Republicans. “I’m not a steppingstone candidate.” Conway briefly served as California’s executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency, appointed by Trump; Hubbard, a Democratic manager at the local water quality control board, has said that he also wouldn’t run in November because, under the new district lines, he’ll be represented by Costa.
Either result would give the winner potentially just a few months in Congress, where Democrats currently hold a 221-209 majority, with five vacancies — all but one in Republican districts. The four Republicans in Tuesday’s race had sketched out very few differences, all of them endorsing an audit of the 2020 election and pledging to protect farmers’ livelihoods from environmental regulations. The major point of disagreement has been whether the district would be well served by a representative who’d be gone in 2023.
“I’m not just in here to run for a special election to get some sort of title,” Maher said at the February candidate forum.
But while the 71-year-old Conway has suggested this would be her last elected office, Heng, 37, has said she may run for something else. Heng, the CEO of a company that’s designing an encrypted Internet browser, ran for U.S. Senate last year and got national attention for a PAC ad. In it, a photo of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) burned, and Heng called her the “face of socialism” while labeling herself the “face of freedom.”
Heng has taken a more low-key approach to this race, emphasizing her six years as a staffer in the House and saying she has the experience to do as much as possible for the Central Valley before her term ends.
“It is unfortunate what has become of Washington, D.C.,” she said when asked about the 2021 PAC ad. “You can’t get anything done unless you’re jumping up and down and screaming. People are getting attention for saying really radical things on both sides of the aisle.”