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Rep. David Valadao’s Democratic challenger drops out of debate at eleventh hour

California GOP Rep. David Valadao is slated to be the only candidate in attendance at Wednesday’s scheduled debate after Democratic state Assemblyman Rudy Salas unexpectedly pulled out of the event, saying he would not appear onstage with the California Republican due to his frustrations over a campaign ad alleging he supported raising prescription drug prices.

Salas told KGET 17 News, the Bakersfield-based NBC affiliate station that was set to hold the debate, he felt Valadao should apologize for a National Republican Congressional Committee ad that targets his vote on a bill placing a fee on opioid manufacturers prior to him participating, arguing that the criticism is misleading, despite having agreed to the debate two months ago.

Valadao, a leading centrist Republican who defeated Rep. T.J. Cox (D-CA) in 2020 after losing the seat he held for three terms in 2018, declined to apologize, blasting Salas for opting not to debate ahead of Election Day.

“My argument is, well, no, you’re taxing people who need this drug for quality-of-life issues, cancer patients and others, and you’re taxing them to pay for other people’s mistakes, and that’s not appropriate,” he told the Washington Examiner in an interview.

“We were offered other debates, and every time, as soon as we get to the point where we say ‘yes’ to a debate [following a discussion of terms with the respective stations], within hours, his team would be, like, ‘OK, no, we’re not doing it.’ It’s almost like they wait for us to say, they’re hoping we would say no first.”

In lieu of the initial debate plans, the station is now scheduled to hold a 30-minute discussion with the GOP congressman, with the station leaving the door open for Salas to change his mind.

Valadao added that while he and his opponent met with a local paper’s editorial board over Zoom, the footage has not been released to the public, adding that he feels voters deserve to hear them defend their positions in a public forum.

“We did a forum, which was with one of our local editorial boards, and that forum was on Zoom, and we were both on together. I think they recorded it, but they said that wasn’t going to be released,” he said. “They recorded it for their own notes so that they would have the quotes accurate when they wrote up their endorsement.”

Valadao went on to take aim at the number of votes that Salas has missed during his time in the state legislature, noting that the process is easier for state lawmakers compared to the limited time provided for congressional lawmakers in Washington.

“Well, the state of California, you walk on the floor, let’s say at 10 a.m., you’re there till 2 o’clock in the afternoon, you can walk on the floor at 1:30 after all the votes that happened and walk over to the computer in the back and add your votes to every single one that you missed,” he said. “And he still even with the system as easy as it is, he’s already still missed 450 votes for a lot of votes.”

The GOP incumbent took to social media to blast Salas over the missed votes, tweeting: “If he cant show up to vote and can’t show up to debate, how are we supposed to believe he’ll show up for the Central Valley in Congress?”

Salas’s campaign has not responded to a request for comment.

The race for California’s 22nd Congressional District has become one of the most watched in the country as Valadao, one of the only GOP lawmakers to vote for impeachment and survive the primary, fights to retain the swing seat.

Outside groups in both parties have heavily spent on ads in a push to boost their respective candidates. Nonpartisan political handicapper Cook Political Report rates the race as a “toss-up.”

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