Salas slams Hurtado on abortion rights amid a messy California Democratic primary

SACRAMENTO — With less than three weeks until the primary, former California Assemblymember Rudy Salas is launching attacks on fellow Democrat Melissa Hurtado, going after her record on abortion rights as Democratic groups scramble to avoid being locked out of the November election for the swing House seat.

Salas, who came within 3,000 votes of knocking out Republican incumbent Rep. David Valadao in 2022, is hoping for a rematch for the Central Valley district. But a challenge from Hurtado, a sitting state senator, has put unexpected pressure on the primary — forcing party leaders to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in the last month to elevate Salas.

The new ad, which first appeared on Bakersfield televisions early Tuesday, is the first direct shot at Hurtado and highlights a poor rating given to her by NARAL Pro-Choice California, one of the leading abortion rights groups. In 2022 the group gave Hurtado a “D” for not voting nine times on legislation that would’ve expanded abortion access — a record that labeled her “hostile to reproductive freedom.” (Hurtado received an “A-” rating from the same group in 2023 and was then labeled a “reproductive freedom leader.”)

The ad comes just hours after the Democratic House Majority PAC launched a Spanish language ad highlighting Salas’ record on abortion rights.

Hurtado’s campaign did not immediately provide a comment in response to the negative ad.

Hurtado’s presence on the ballot, which is all but certain to splinter the Democratic vote, prompted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to step in last month with a round of joint ads backing Salas. The DCCC and Salas campaign have now spent a combined $898,000 in the primary, in addition to $919,000 from House Majority PAC.

Democratic groups have been working to counter Hurtado ahead of the primary race, despite her raising less than $60,000 last year and entering 2024 with less than $5,000 cash on hand.

Valadao is also facing a challenge on the right from conservative Republican Chris Mathys, who last cycle came within 2,000 votes of beating Valadao in the primary and making it into the top two.

The district swung for President Joe Biden in 2020, but primaries in the largely agricultural region tend to include a disproportionately higher number of Republican voters. If Hurtado manages to siphon off even a small amount of Democrats from Salas, it could lock Democrats out of one of the most competitive races in the nation.

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