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By State Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, looks over the Senate Daily file with his daughter, Iliana, 4, at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Sept. 9, 2011. Rubio brought his daughter to work on the last day of this year's legislative session so she could she where her daddy worked.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
BY JORGE BARRIENTOS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
God, family, career. That's the order of Democratic state Sen. Michael Rubio's personal priorities, he said in a statement Tuesday.
Therefore, he has decided he will not run for U.S. Congress in 2012, and instead will focus his time and energy on his family, which includes his second child -- a special-needs daughter with Down syndrome.
"It would be easy to continue my candidacy for Congress with thoughts of being engaged in the difficult issues that face our nation today. But my family needs me more today than Congress does," Rubio wrote in a statement titled "Family Comes First" posted on his website.
The news surprised many including his supporters and political insiders who believed the race for the ultra-competitive 21st District was all but locked in. In a Sunday Californian article, Assemblyman David Valadao, R-Hanford, said he was definitely running in the 21st, while Rubio was expected to represent Democrats. Rubio had told The Californian, however, he was still deciding.
A representative in Rubio's office said Tuesday he would not be fielding questions about his decision.
"Everyone thought this was settled," said veteran political analyst Allan Hoffenblum, who watches state and federal races throughout California as co-editor of The Target Book, considered an election bible. "Now the question is, 'Will more than one Democrat try to enter that race? We'll just have to wait and see."
The big question, he said, is whether former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, D-Shafter, will enter the race. The former boss of Rubio has flirted with running but not announced his intentions.
He did not return calls for comment Tuesday, but local political insiders said Florez would make a viable candidate.
Florez is an excellent fundraiser and campaigner, has established himself as a leader in the state legislature, and has attained national party support, said Milt Younger, a Bakersfield attorney and Democratic Party booster.
"Dean Florez is a formidable and great representative for our area," Younger said. "He would be a wonderful candidate for Congress."
Valadao, too, is viable, his supporters say. The National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee elevated his status and 11 other GOP hopefuls to "On the Radar" status in its "Young Guns" program.
That program, which seeks to elect Republicans to the House, was created by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and two colleagues. "On the Radar" is the second of four steps toward party support.
Valadao, in a statement, said he respected "the fact that Michael made what he feels is the best decision for his family and wish them the best."
To his own plans, Valadao said in a statement, "My family and I remain committed to this race. We will continue working to earn support throughout the Valley."
Rubio's statement Tuesday focused on the recent birth of his child, calling her "truly a gift."
"When the day comes that she may read this statement, all I can say to her is 'thank you,' for she has reminded me that priorities in life should always be God, family and then career."
He continued: "I will forever be grateful and honored for the overwhelming support we received. To our volunteers, donors and supporters: let us continue our fight in Sacramento. This is a critical time in California and in the Central Valley. The California Legislature, with the leadership of Governor Brown, is finally tackling our state's toughest problems.
"With all my might, I look forward to the good fight in Sacramento. Thank you."
Rubio supporters and political race watchers flocked his Facebook webpage and other websites to chime in, nearly everyone commending him on his work and also on his decision.
Candi Easter, head of the Kern County Democratic Party, said she was sorry to see Rubio was not going to run, and was in tears after reading his statement.
"I though it was emotional and heartfelt. He is a family man and family comes first," she said. "He will continue to represent in Sacramento."
Earlier this year, Rubio wrote a column in The Californian on his 2012 legislative priorities. They included getting the state's budget and economy in order, fixing California's "broken water infrastructure," and streamlining the state's regulatory system "in a way that partners with the private sector to create jobs."
Rubio had collected $225,000 for the Congressional race as of Sept. 30 compared to Valadao's $161,511, according to Californian reports. Rubio could return the contributions or use them for future races, but can't transfer the funds to someone else.
Younger has said as much as $1 million could be spent on the race.
On the race, Easter said, "We have a very deep bench," but she would not say exactly who would be coming off the bench to take Rubio's spot.
"Valadao should be afraid," Easter said. "Now we're going to unleash the tiger."