Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Voting starts in 16th State Senate District battle to replace Rubio

Let the 16th State Senate District voting begin!

Monday was the first day voters living in the district could cast ballots for the May 21 special election to fill the seat of Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio, who unexpectedly resigned in February to take a job with the Chevron Corp.

Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth said her office mailed out absentee ballots on Monday to 16th District voters who live in the county. Clerks in Tulare, Kern and Kings did the same.

But starting Monday at 8:30 a.m., Orth’s office was also open to anybody registered to vote in the district who couldn’t wait a moment longer to cast their ballot. And, Orth said, a few did just that.

There are five candidates seeking the seat: Peace and Freedom Party candidate Mohammad Arif of Bakersfield, Fresno Democrat Paulina Miranda, Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez, Riverdale Democrat Francisco Ramirez Jr. and Hanford Republican Andy Vidak.

If none of the candidates gets 50% of the votes, plus one, in the May 21 election, the top two vote-getters will face off in a July 23 runoff.

The district favors a Democrat, but Republicans say they like their chances because special elections typically have low turnouts, which often favors the GOP.

Political Data Inc., which collects voter information, said registration in the district was 50.7% Democratic and 28.6% Republican as of Feb. 22.

But that support is not spread even across the district.

For instance, in Fresno County Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 30,000 registered voters.

But in Kings County, Republicans outnumber Democrats, though only by a few thousand. In Tulare County, Democrats outnumber Republicans, but not by much. Kern County is another Democratic stronghold.

Still, it is clear that any winning strategy must center on Fresno County. Though it is at the district’s northern end, Fresno County has, at slightly more than 48%, the largest number of voters in the district.

Political Data has also collected some other interesting information.
For instance, almost 60% of registered voters have an average income below $50,000, and less than 1% are above $100,000.

The City of Fresno has, by far, the most voters — 25.9% of the district’s total. Next is unincorporated Kern County at 8.5% and Bakersfield and Hanford, each with 7.8% of the voters.

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?

Political Notebook: Obama has more Valley donors, but Romney has raked in far more cash

In city after city across the central San Joaquin Valley, President Barack Obama has attracted more donors for his reelection campaign than his challenger, Republican Mitt Romney.

But when it comes to the local cash haul, Romney rules.

Take Fresno, for instance. Obama had 2,214 donors with Fresno mailing addresses, while Romney had just 696. But those 696 donors gave Romney $438,050, while Obama’s more than 2,200 contributed $223,716.

The average per donor? It is $629.38 for Romney, and just $101 for Obama.
Across the region, it is similar story — Exeter, Visalia, Kingsburg, Hanford, Madera, Merced mailing addresses all show more Obama donors, but more total money for Romney.

It even holds true in a Republican stronghold like Clovis, where Obama had 455 donors to Romney’s 259, but Romney raised $135,107 to Obama’s $42,700.

Given Romney’s local high-dollar fundraisers, this is hardly surprising. The biggest of them all came in May, when Romney raked in more than $1 million at a fundraiser at the Sanger-area home of prominent west-side rancher John Harris and his wife, Carole.

Obama, by comparison, has never held a Valley fundraiser. All his campaign donations came from local people who took the initiative and sent in a check. The only exception would have been if a local wealthy Democrat attended one of Obama’s Los Angeles or Bay Area fundraisers.