After the toughest campaign of his political life, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), known for being one of President Donald Trump’s most ardent defenders in Congress, has held onto his seat in California’s 22nd District. His opponent, Fresno prosecutor Andrew Janz, had pulled in 42.5 percent of the vote at the time networks called the race.
It has been a tumultuous two years for Nunes, who rarely made national headlines until the election of President Trump. Since then, Nunes’ frequent blunders—recall his “midnight run” to the White House and the “secret memo” that landed with a thud—have put him in a glaring spotlight. As the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, he has been accused of running interference for Trump, including withholding key information on Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Even some Republicans have denounced his antics, including one associate who called him “an overeager goofball” and another, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), compared him to the bumbling Inspector Clouseau.
But Nunes’ newfound national profile didn’t always play well at home. During the past year, he has engaged in a Trumpian war of words with the press, in particular the Fresno Bee, the largest newspaper near his district. Nunes accused the Bee of being a “left-wing rag” and “a propaganda machine” that had teamed up with “outside groups” and the Janz campaign to peddle “fake news.” The Bee‘s editorial board called him “Trump’s stooge” and later refused to endorse him for reelection this year—the first time the Bee had recommended a Nunes opponent. As the editorial page’s former editor, Gail Marshall, told me this summer: “We didn’t change. He changed.”
While Nunes was rarely seen in the district during the campaign, Janz attended events and protests outside of Nunes’ Clovis office. He not only built a local base and steadily rose in the polls, he also gained a national profile and pulled in more campaign contributions than any previous Democrat in the traditionally red district. In the third quarter of this year, Janz outraised Nunes by more than $1 million. Nunes, however, outraised Janz by more than $3 million over the course of the campaign.
Though he was the beneficiary of a groundswell of liberal activism in the district, Janz was always going to be a long shot. California’s 22nd District is a well-fortified Republican stronghold, and Nunes has easily slayed one Democratic opponent after another since 2002. In 2016, he was reelected with 68 percent of the vote, and Trump took the district by a nearly 10-point margin.
Though Nunes will keep his job, he’ll have a limited role in the House Intelligence Committee when the Democrats assume control of the House.