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Many local residents were thrilled in 2008 when Hanford resident Danny Gilmore was elected to represent them in the 30th Assembly District.

The same voters were equally pleased in 2010 when David Valadao handily defeated Fran Florez, mother of then-state Sen. Dean Florez to take the seat. Gilmore didn’t run for re-election.

Unlike Gilmore, who quickly soured on Sacramento politics, Valadao thrived. So much so, he’s running for Congress now that redistricting has pushed Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, into another area.

The top two candidates will advance to a November runoff. Because he’s the only Republican running in the newly drawn 21st Congressional District, Valadao is likely to advance on Tuesday, turning the vote into an elimination round for Democrats Blong Xiong and John Hernandez. Both have made few appearances in Kings County.

The district has long been a target for Republicans. The last election showed that Democrats, though they’ve held the seat since 1990, are vulnerable. Costa barely defeated Hanford farmer Andy Vidak in 2010, even though Vidak had never been in politics and was largely unknown until he announced his candidacy.

Valadao emphasizes his business experience and conservative viewpoints, saying he would work to reduce the size of government, eliminate unnecessary regulations and oppose the Obama health care law. He has the strong backing of Republicans and the ag community, including support from the Kings County Farm Bureau.

Valadao is the only candidate living inside the new district boundaries and argues that living in the district gives him a better grasp of its concerns than his opponents. He was recently named one of 12 “Young Gun” Republicans nationwide by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Valadao is well ahead in fundraising, having started his campaign months before Xiong and Hernandez. As of May 16, Valadao had raised $681,230 and had a whopping $490,547 on hand. Xiong has garnered $207,721 in contributions and reported $26,189 in the bank. Hernandez, meanwhile, had raised only $32,709, including loans of 23,736. He had no cash balance and owed $23,736.

Xiong is drawing financial support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC), which has recognized his campaign as an “emerging race” and is financing mailers and robocalls. He has also gathered key endorsements from Costa, state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, former Assemblyman Juan Arambula and other Valley Democratic heavyweights.

The Fresno city councilman escaped with his family from war in Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand in 1974, when he was just 5. His family emigrated to Missouri and eventually settled in California’s Central Valley. He has spent the last five-plus years on the Fresno City Council representing District 1, located in west-central Fresno.

Hernandez said he stands out because of his chamber of commerce experience promoting business. He has taken clear Democratic stances on issues, saying he would tax the rich more and support high-speed rail and President Obama’s health care reforms. Hernandez said he’s got a better shot at winning than Xiong because of the predominately Hispanic population in the district.

The district includes parts of Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.

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

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