- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Democrats seeking to unseat several Republican members of Congress from California linked the incumbents to Donald Trump on Wednesday, hoping to tap discontent with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee in districts with large numbers of Democrats and Latinos.

Republican incumbents Jeff Denham and David Valadao in the Central Valley and Steve Knight in the Los Angeles area coasted through Tuesday’s open primary, in which the top two vote-getters advance to a November runoff. Despite their first-place finishes, Democrats made clear that they will try to make an issue of Trump’s comments on Mexicans and immigrants.

“Donald Trump seems to have a vendetta against Mexicans and that’s what we are here in the Valley,” said Democrat Emilio Huerta, a Bakersfield attorney and son of labor icon Dolores Huerta, who was locked in a close contest for second to advance to a runoff against Valadao in a district that includes parts of Bakersfield and about 20 farming towns.

Valadao, who crushed his Democratic opponents in 2012 and 2014, won nearly 60 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary even though his party lags Democrats by 16 points in voter registration. Huerta trailed fellow Democrat Daniel Parra, a Fowler city councilman, by fewer than 500 votes out of 50,000 ballots for second place.

Valadao said his Democratic district, which is about 70 percent Latino, has a history of electing Republicans, including him, and that he could run a successful campaign independent of the presidential race. Valadao said he was undecided on whether to vote for Trump himself.

“The thing that has to be remembered here is that we’ve always been able to run a race no matter who’s at the top of the ticket,” Valadao said Wednesday. “I would say Mitt Romney had some issues too with ‘self-deportations.’ I’ve always been able to outperform. … We’re going to do our job running our campaign, making sure voters know I am.”

Thad Kousser, a political science professor at University of California, San Diego, said Denham and Knight will be tempting targets for Democrats because, while finishing first, they collected less than 50 percent of the vote.

“This puts a spotlight on who’s a truly vulnerable Republican in a Trump year,” Kousser said. “This is the blood in the water that’s going to attract the sharks of national Democratic funding groups.”

In contrast, Valadao’s commanding lead appears to give him more breathing room, Kousser said.

Democrat Bryan Caforio, an attorney who was recruited by national party leaders, advanced to challenge Knight, a freshman Republican. Democrat Lou Vince, a Los Angeles Police Department lieutenant who trailed in fundraising, finished a strong third in a district that is about evenly split between Democrats and Republicans in voter registration and is about 35 percent Latino.

Denham, a two-term Republican whose district is anchored around Modesto, faces a rematch against Democrat Michael Eggman, a beekeeper and almond grower. Denham defeated Eggman by 12 points in 2014 in a district that is also about split between Democrats and Republicans and is 40 percent Latino.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a press release that previewed its message for the campaign: “The Denham and the Donald: The Trump Ticket,” while National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden said Denham’s “resounding victory” shows voters appreciate his hard work and will send him back to Washington in November.

Other incumbents survived Tuesday to set up November matchups in about a dozen of California’s 53 districts. Here are a few races of note:

-Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Honda and former President Barack Obama administration official Ro Khanna headed for a rematch of their 2014 contest for a San Francisco Bay Area congressional seat. Since narrowly defeating Khanna two years ago, Honda is the subject of a congressional ethics investigation into whether he and his staff used official resources for campaign purposes.

-Two-term Democrat Ami Bera, who supported “fast-track” authority for Obama to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, headed for a runoff against Republican Scott Jones, a Sacramento County sheriff who enjoyed Teamsters backing until his support for Trump prompted the union to rescind its endorsement.

-Democrat Salud Carbajal, a Santa Barbara County supervisor, advanced to a runoff in a coastal district to replace Democrat Lois Capps, who is retiring after nearly 20 years. GOP competitors Justin Fareed, a rancher, and Katcho Achadjian, a state assemblyman, were locked in a close race for second.

-Democrat Lou Correa, a former state legislator, advanced to a runoff against Republican Bob Peterson, an Orange County sheriff’s commander, to represent an Orange County district to replace Democrat Loretta Sanchez, who vacated the seat to run for U.S. Senate.

-Isadore Hall, a state senator, advanced against former Hermosa Beach Councilwoman Nanette Barrragan, a fellow Democrat, in a Los Angeles district to replace Democrat Janice Hahn, who retired to run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

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