Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Hernandez to seek 21st Congressional rematch against Valadao

John Hernandez

Last year, Fresno Democrat John Hernandez ran a low-budget, debt-ridden campaign against Hanford Republican David Valadao for the 21st Congressional District.

Valadao spanked Hernandez in the November election, winning by more than 15 percentage points — even though the district, on paper, appears to be drawn for a Hispanic Democrat.

Undaunted, Hernandez says he’s going to once again challenge Valadao. He plans to officially kick off his campaign Saturday with events in Bakersfield and Sanger.

“We’ve been working all summer,” Hernandez said. “I’m the candidate for this district.”

This time, though, it might not be so simple for Hernandez.

The main reason is Amanda Renteria, who looks like she will have the backing of most, if not all, of the Democratic Party establishment.

Hernandez has already torpedoed the Democratic Party’s plans once. Last year, it backed Fresno City Council Member Blong Xiong in the 21st District race, but in the June open primary, Valadao and Hernandez finished one-two and moved on to the general election, leaving Xiong in the dust.

But Xiong got a late start and his campaign never caught fire.

This time, Renteria is getting an early start and has some intangibles that Xiong didn’t — she is Hispanic and a female.

The 38-year-old graduate of Woodlake High School, Stanford and Harvard Business School was the first Latina chief of staff to a U.S. senator, and has now moved back to the central San Joaquin Valley to run.

This week, she picked up the endorsement of EMILY’s List, a group that supports female Democratic candidates.

Hernandez is undaunted.

“The key is we have the name recognition up and down the district,” he said. “Amanda has none of that. She’s going to have to start from scratch. Nobody knows her at all.”

Some of that echoes what Valadao has said about Renteria.

In the district, 73% of the 712,866 residents are counted as Hispanic or Latino, according to Census Bureau records.

Democrats also enjoy a 47%-32% voter registration advantage over Republicans in the district, which includes all of Kings and parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties on the Valley’s west side.

Still, no Hispanic has ever been able to turn that kind of advantage into a victory.

Next year, the three hopefuls — Valadao, Hernandez and Renteria, as well as any others who jump in the race — will square off in the open primary. The top two vote getters move on to the November general election, regardless of party.

Assuming Valadao moves on as the likely lone Republican, the question is who will be his opponent — Renteria, the Democratic Party’s favored choice, or Hernandez, once again upsetting his party’s apple cart.

Democrats look to Bakersfield school trustee for Valadao challenge

Local and national Democrats think a Bakersfield City School District member might make the perfect challenger for first-term congressman David Valadao, a Hanford Republican.

Andrae Gonzales is currently the board’s president pro tem. Democrats call him an “up-and-comer.” Even Bakersfield Republican political consultant Stan Harper calls him “viable” and “bright.”

Andrae Gonzales

The question is: Can he unseat Valadao in the 21st Congressional District?

Democrats are still unhappy that they failed to even put up a fight for the seat last November. They hold a 15-percentage-point registration advantage in the district over the rival Republicans, but Valadao thumped Fresno Democrat John Hernandez, 58% to 42%.

Despite the registration advantage for Democrats, it never looked good for them during last year’s campaign.

Hernandez never seemed to get off the ground. His campaign seemed unfocused and not nearly visible enough. It was also dogged by debt.

Democrats never wanted Hernandez in the first place. They preferred Fresno City Council Member Blong Xiong, but in the state’s new top two primary, Valadao and Hernandez finished one-two. Xiong was left on the sidelines.

Now, Hernandez says he’s running again. And Democrats once again want an alternative, said Matt Rogers, chairman of the Fresno County Young Democrats.

Rogers said he spoke with Gonzales on Thursday morning, and the 31-year-old is interested in a run against Valadao. And, Rogers said, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also reached out to Gonzales.

Gonzales was also mentioned as a potential candidate to replace Michael Rubio, who abruptly resigned from the state Senate in February. A May 21 special election is set to fill that seat.

John Hernandez

But Gonzales isn’t the only potential candidate. Democrats are also talking to former state Sen. Dean Florez, as well as his mother Fran, a Shafter council member.

Florez might even be preferable for a Valadao challenge, because he twice won election in a Senate district that matches up well with the 21st Congressional District’s current boundaries — which takes in parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties and all of Kings County.

But Rogers said nobody in Democratic Party circles thinks Dean Florez will run.
The bench isn’t very deep for Democrats, either. Another possibility was newly elected Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, but now she’s running to replace Rubio in the state Senate.

If Gonzales does run — or Dean or Fran Florez, for that matter — the next hurdle would be getting them sufficient funds to mount an effective campaign.
Rogers said Democrats want to hold on the 36th Congressional District, where Raul Ruiz upset incumbent Republican Mary Bono Mack last year. The GOP will likely target that Southern California seat next year.

There are other seats held by Democrats in the state that also must be held, Rogers said.

In the end, will there be enough cash to fund Valadao’s challenger? And, it seems, the party may also have to get that person past a primary that may include Hernandez.

Obama’s 21st CD win shows Valadao could be vulnerable

Hanford Republican David Valadao trounced his financially strapped and listless Democratic Party opponent, John Hernandez, in last November’s 21st Congressional District race, winning by 16 percentage points.

But Democrat Barack Obama, seeking his second term as president, did pretty good himself. He won the district by 11 percentage points — 55% to 44% for Republican Mitt Romney.

Taken together, it means one thing, said Los Angeles political analyst Allan Hoffenblum, a longtime Republican strategist and author of the California Target Book: “This will be a target race” in 2014.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee appears to have picked up on that. It’s already busy attacking Valadao.

In fact, Obama not only won Valadao’s district in 2012, he also won inside those boundaries in 2008 — 52% to 46% over Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP candidate. And Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown won more votes inside Valadao’s district lines in 2010, Hoffenblum said.

Using some of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s own criteria, that pretty much makes Valadao’s seat competitive.

Just to the north of Valadao’s 21st District is the 16th District, held by Fresno Democrat Jim Costa. The National Republican Congressional Committee is saying it, too, is a targeted race.

But there’s one big difference in the two districts — Obama also took Costa’s district, winning by 20 percentage points. It’s why, on paper at least, Valadao looks more vulnerable.

Still, in both districts the key is recruiting a viable candidate, which Hoffenblum said is likely in the works now.

Hernandez’s campaign was consistently broke, which made it hard to get out the message. Valadao, by comparison, had a ton of cash and a $600,000 assist from the outside group Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies.

Valadao won, 58% to 42% for Hernandez.

In the 16th District, Costa outspent Fresno Republican Brian Whelan, who never seemed to get traction despite having a decent war chest. Costa won 57.4% of the vote to Whelan’s 42.6%.

But Hernandez and Whelan were never considered first stringers by party leaders. Despite efforts by both Republican and Democratic Party leaders, no heavy hitters stepped up to try and challenge Valadao or Costa.

The question is — can Democrats bring in a true challenger to take on Valadao in the 21st District, and can Republicans do the same in the 16th District?

21st Congressional race was a Valadao rout, but Hernandez still has chance to make it respectable

The 21st Congressional District battle between Hanford Republican David Valadao and Fresno Democrat John Hernandez was, in short, bizarre.

Democrats have a 15-percentage-point registration edge in the district, but Hernandez’s campaign was consistently broke, which makes it hard to get out the message. Valadao had a ton of cash and, while the seat technically had no incumbent, an advantage as a sitting Assembly member.

Soon, political prognosticators stopped paying attention, and the race fell off everyone’s radar screen.

Then came a suggestion that Republicans saw some poll numbers that hinted at trouble, and not long after Karl Rove’s super-PAC, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, announced it was spending more than $600,000 in anti-Hernandez ads.

Hernandez predicted a close race.

It never came.

As it currently stands, Valadao has close to a 20-percentage-point lead, 59.9% to 40.1%.

Not surprisingly, Valadao dominated in Kings County, his home turf, winning better than 70% of the vote. Be it Cal Dooley, Jim Costa, or now Hernandez, Kings has delivered spanking after spanking to Democrats.

Hernandez knew Kings wasn’t his strong area. (Not to mention parts of the district in Tulare and his home county of Fresno.) To offset Kings and win the race, he needed to win big in Kern County, where the 21st District has most of its Democrats. Hernandez was even in Bakersfield on election night.

But as of now, Hernandez is winning less than 52% of the vote in Kern to Valadao’s 48%.

Lots of votes still remain to be counted in Tulare and Fresno counties, but because a good chunk are in Kern County, it is widely expected that Valadao’s lead will shrink — though his ultimate victory margin still likely will be substantial.

Kings has around 1,500 provisional ballots left to count, so they are close to finishing.

Kern has close to 50,000, Fresno 78,000 and Tulare around 30,000. The district doesn’t cover all of Kern, Tulare or Fresno counties, so not all those will be in the Hernandez-Valadao race.

Still, that Kern has that many outstanding ballots is good for Hernandez, though outstanding votes still to be counted in Fresno and Tulare could break against him.

Hernandez is down by more than 16,200 votes to Valadao, so ultimately, all he can hope for is that those outstanding Kern ballots will make his loss respectable, instead of a landslide.

Political Notebook: Democrats continue to lead Republicans in Fresno Co. voter registration

Fresno County Democrats are continuing to lead rival Republicans in signing up new voters, data released today by the Secretary of State’s Office shows.

The new voter registration numbers — the last that will be released before Tuesday’s election — show there are 6,396 more Democrats than Republicans in Fresno County.

In raw numbers, it is 164,663 Democrats to 158,267 Republicans.

Last month, the Democrats led by 2,635, and in May, it was 2,700.

Also showing significant growth were those voters who are declining to join a political party, or are registered with one that isn’t recognized by the state, such as the once-relevant Reform Party.

In May, these people with “no party preference” were at 61,869. Last month, it was 62,311. And now, it is 67,417.

The latest numbers show the Republican Party in Fresno County continuing to struggle on the registration front, and marks a continuing reversal of fortune for the local GOP, which a decade ago was riding high.

In 2000, Republicans in Fresno County overtook Democrats in voter registration totals for the first time in anyone’s memory. That lead peaked in 2004 with a GOP advantage of more than 24,000 voters.

But Democrats worked to close the gap, and by the middle of 2010 had retaken the lead. They haven’t relinquished it since, and now appear to be growing it.

A stark example of that is looking back to this point four years ago, when President Barack Obama was seeking his first term in office. At that point, Republicans still held a lead of more than 10,000 voters.

Since that point, Democrats in Fresno County have added more than 11,200 voters, while Republicans have added just 4,800.

It turns a 2004 quote from Michael Der Manouel Jr. on its head. “Countywide,” the current chairman of the Lincoln Club of Fresno County said, “I don’t believe (Democrats) will ever catch us again.”

The City of Fresno also remains solidly Democratic, with 21,350 more registered voters than Republicans.

While Republicans lag in Fresno County, they are continuing their domination of rival Democrats in the rest of the central San Joaquin Valley — Tulare, Kings and Madera counties.

In Tulare, there are 63,809 Republicans to 49,151 Democrats. In Kings, it is 21,812 Republicans to 17,068 Democrats. And in Madera, 24,152 Republicans to 18,301 Democrats.

As for the local congressional races, Democrats are dominating voter registration in the two westside districts — the 16th, where Fresno Democrat Jim Costa is seeking reelection, and the 21st, which is an open seat featuring a battle between Republican Assembly Member David Valadao and Fresno Democrat John Hernandez.

At the same time, Republican voters rule in the eastside districts currently held by GOP incumbents Devin Nunes, Kevin McCarthy and Tom McClintock.

Of particular interest is the Hernandez-Valadao clash, because political prognosticators have dubbed Valadao the clear favorite even though Republicans lag in registration. Hernandez has vowed to get Democrats to the polls.

The registration numbers are through Oct. 22.

Political Notebook: Is the 21st Congressional District competitive? The evidence is conflicting

UPDATE: On Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee weighed in on the 21st Congressional District race for the first time.

The DCCC said it was doing a robocall on behalf of Democrat John Hernandez. The gist of the call: Vote for Hernandez because he would be the first Mexican American congressman from the district, where two-thirds of the voting-age population is Hispanic.

Here’s part of the script, which features “Maria from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.” The call says Hernandez, “unlike his Republican opponent” David Valadao, “supports the DREAM Act,” which would allow illegal immigrants under 30 who entered the U.S. before age 16 and have lived here for five years without committing a serious crime to be eligible for legal residency.

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The evidence continues to mount that Hanford Republican David Valadao won’t roll to an easy win over Fresno Democrat John Hernandez in the newly drawn 21st Congressional District.

A few weeks ago, that was the assumption. The race, just about everyone thought, was a done deal. Hardly anyone was paying attention.

Then came an article in the National Journal — a nonpartisan magazine that covers national politics and policy — that quoted a Republican saying private polling was moving “the wrong way” for Valadao.

On Friday, a group known as Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies said it had put together a television ad attacking Hernandez, and was spending more than $600,000 to buy air time.

Now, political watchers from the Valley to Washington D.C. are wondering if the race is truly competitive, or if Valadao just needs to shore up his lead.

“I think Republicans are worried that if Valadao doesn’t define himself, the person with the Hispanic surname may have an actual advantage,” says Kyle Kondik, communications director at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, which tracks federal races.

Like so many other political prognosticators, the Center for Politics’ Crystal Ball e-magazine long ago stopped considering the race competitive. But now Kondik says it “may be moving back on to the table,” though still rated as “likely Republican.”

Among Hernandez’s advantages are a nearly 15-percentage-point voter registration advantage, and a huge Hispanic electorate. Hernandez has vowed to get those voters to the polls.

In addition, President Barack Obama won the district in 2008, and Gov. Jerry Brown did as well in 2010.

But Hernandez’s disadvantages are huge. For starters, he really doesn’t have any money. He raised just $53,000 between July 1 and September 30, has just $17,700 in his account — and $40,000 in unpaid bills. His campaign has constantly been in debt.

In addition, while the Republicans seem to be pushing the panic button, Hernandez’s own Democratic Party — or any of its political allies — isn’t helping with any money at all.

This comes at the same time it is pouring hundreds of thousands into a Stanislaus County-based congressional race involving another Hernandez — former astronaut Jose Hernandez, a Democrat who is challenging incumbent Republican Jeff Denham in what is shaping up to be a very close race.

Valadao, in the meantime, has almost $800,000 in his account, and he plans to run television commercials through the November 6 general election. Coupled with more than $600,000 in ads from Crossroads GPS, and that adds up to a double-barreled onslaught of anti-Hernandez and pro-Valadao campaign advertising.

The Valadao campaign is also touting an internal poll that shows him with a 20-percentage-point lead — 53% to 33% — and 14% saying either they are undecided or will vote for neither. However, it is unknown how the questions on the race were asked.

In some ways, the Hernandez-Valadao clash has similarities to the 2010 race between incumbent Democrat Jim Costa and Republican challenger Andy Vidak.

That race was largely quiet — until mid-September. In the final seven weeks, Vidak went toe-to-toe with Costa in what turned out to be a very competitive race.

The common thread is the territory. Costa’s district at that time was largely the same as the area that is now part of the 21st District.

Costa is now gone, thanks to a redistricting that put him in a new district that runs from Fresno to the north. But could history be repeating itself in a chunk of his old westside Valley stamping grounds?