HANFORD — A Hanford dairy farmer with a burgeoning political career. An immigrant city councilman who would be the first Hmong elected to Congress. A lifelong Democrat with business ties who says he’s a man of the people.

Three men, three candidates, and only the top two will move on after the June 5 primary to compete in November for the right to represent the 21st Congressional District, covering all of Kings County and parts of Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties. Kings County has 24 percent of the district’s registered voters.

Hanford dairy operator and first-term Assemblyman David Valadao, R-Hanford, has a big funding advantage, raising $577,000 by the end of March, the last reporting period. Coming in second with $145,000 is Blong Xiong, the Fresno city councilman running a historic campaign as a Hmong immigrant. John Hernandez, CEO of the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, was well back with just over $30,000.

With Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, running for re-election in a new district after narrowly defeating another Hanford farmer, Andy Vidak, in 2010, the seat is up for grabs. As the only Republican in the field, it’s likely that Valadao will advance, turning the primary into an elimination round for Fresno residents Xiong and Hernandez. Along with his funding advantage over Hernandez, Xiong has racked up key endorsements, including Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, and former Assemblyman Juan Arambula.

Valadao wouldn’t say he’s the front-runner, but he emphasized that he’s the only candidate living in the district (which isn’t required to run for the office.)

“I feel good about this race because I’m the local boy, the one who has ties to the community,” he said.

Valadao also has the full backing of Republicans and agricultural luminaries, getting endorsements from the Kings County Farm Bureau and support from leaders such as Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway.

“There are a lot of differences between us as candidates, but if you truly believe in representative government, to represent a community, you have to be part of a community,” he said. “I think it makes a difference.”

Valadao emphasized his business experience, saying he knows what it takes to attract companies to the area. If elected, he says he would work to cut the federal deficit, reduce the size of government, eliminate unnecessary regulations, oppose the Obama health care law, cut funding for the California high-speed rail project and bring more water supplies.

Like Valadao, Xiong is enjoying high-profile party support from the Democratic Party. He is also getting noteworthy financial help from the U.S. Hmong community outside California. They are showing keen interest at the prospect of a first-ever Hmong U.S. congressman.

But Xiong doesn’t put too fine a point on his ethnic affiliation. He says he has plenty of Latino backers and would never have won his City Council seat if he had run along strictly ethnic lines.

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Nor does he make much of the fact that Valadao is the only candidate living in the district.

“We all have our little specific nuances, but in my work with the [San Joaquin] Valley, it’s the Valley issues that matter,” Xiong said. “We’re talking about jobs, we’re talking about water.”

Xiong says he supports working families, schools, infrastructure, greater government efficiency, key principles of Obama’s health care law and the job-creation benefits of high-speed rail.

Xiong said his political experience — almost six years on the Fresno City Council — distinguishes him from the other candidates.

“I’m the only one that has served the community for this long in a diverse way,” he said. “You’re talking about being able to do things for the Valley that I’ve shown a track record of doing.”

Hernandez doesn’t seem to be bothered by the backers Xiong has lined up. Leader of the Hispanic Chamber since 2004, Hernandez has endorsements from the mayors of Fowler and Mendota, other political figures in the district and the Hispanic magazines Orale and Rollo Latino.

“I’ve got, in my opinion, the endorsements that matter,” he said. “These are people who live in the district.”

Hernandez said he stands out because of his chamber of commerce experience promoting business and running job fairs. He has taken clear Democratic stances on issues, saying he would tax the rich more, run an efficient government to promote high-speed rail, green energy, schools and infrastructure and defend Obama’s health care reforms.

Calling Xiong “out of touch” with the district, Hernandez said he’s got a better shot at winning because of the predominately Hispanic population.

“I should be elected because I’m the most qualified candidate and also because I have the best chance of defeating Valadao,” Hernandez said. “This particular district is really made for a candidate like myself. I can really motivate the constituency to vote. It’s no secret that the district is 71 percent Latino. I have a real deep root in that community.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or snidever@HanfordSentinel.com.

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