BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Republicans were rejoicing and Democrats were talking re-match Wednesday after late vote counting gave Andy Vidak a clear claim on the 16th Senate District seat.
His Democratic opponent, Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, conceded the race Wednesday afternoon.
“This campaign is over,” she said in a statement. “Andy has earned the right to represent us in Sacramento and I look forward to him delivering on his promises to create jobs, improve our economy and deliver fresh, reliable water to our farms and families. It’s time for each of us to get to work.”
A Californian analysis showed Perez would have needed to claim more than 90 percent of the 6,523 remaining votes in Kern and Fresno counties to win.
Both sides saw the writing on the wall.
“It was a spirited campaign and I look forward to working with Supervisor Perez along with every other elected official in the district,” Vidak said in a statement thanking his supporters for their help and voters for sending him to Sacramento. “We all have to set aside our differences and work together to make this valley a better and safer place to live.”
He promised to work to bring jobs and water to the valley and local control back to valley schools.
Kern County Democrats, exhausted after a long, hot summer battling not only for the state Senate seat but the Ward 1 Bakersfield City Council post, were stepping back and taking stock of the situation Wednesday, said Kern County Democratic Party Chair Candi Easter.
“It was a very brilliant move by the Republicans to battle this out in a special election,” she said of the GOP’s strong effort in the Democratic-heavy 16th. “We knew it would be hard to turn out voters.”
Easter called the campaign grueling and the attack advertising brutal.
“I think this is the hardest-fought campaign ever in this region — or at least that I can remember,” she said. “It was a very confusing summer, a very hard one for us.”
The cards didn’t fall Democrats’ way — this time, she said.
But Vidak will have to run for re-election to the new 14th Senate District in less than a year and Democrats will mount a challenge, she said.
“We’ll always be back to fight again. You can count on it,” Easter said.
State political observer Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the respected California Target Book, said the key to the Vidak win seems to be the passion and dedication he was able to inspire in his voters
“The voters that went out and voted for Vidak were much more intense than the voters who voted for Perez,” he said. “He turned out to be as good a candidate as the Republicans could hope.”
But Hoffenblum wasn’t subscribing to the notion being spread by some in the GOP that California’s sidelined Republican Party has somehow — in Vidak — found a way to appeal to the growing population of Latino voters in the state.
Bigger factors in the race were Vidak’s strong support in his home county of Kings and the unpreparedness of the local Democratic Party, said Hoffenblum, a Republican.
“We don’t know how much he appealed to Latinos,” Hoffenblum said. “This (win) was unique to that district — that race.”
He said the biggest boost Vidak’s win offers the California GOP is to the fledgling leadership Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte.
“Brulte gets his first win,” Hoffenblum said.
The chairman can take that momentum into the 2014 election cycle, Hoffenblum said, where Republicans will try to pick off additional state Senate seats and deflate a Democratic super-majority that gives them the ability to pass taxes and other critical measures without Republican votes.
But the party is far from a rebound, he said.
“Republicans — boy they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them,” Hoffenblum said.
Despite Perez’s concession, Brulte was cautious about claiming victory in the 16th District Wednesday afternoon. But he said the party is trying to focus on the future.
“We want to rebuild the Republican Party in California from the ground up,” he said.
The lesson Vidak’s candidacy has for the party, Brulte said, is that with the right candidate — and a coordinated effort from Republican volunteers, the state party, local leaders and the legislative GOP caucuses — Republicans can do well in a tough district.
“We all have to be working together toward the same goal,” he said. “Win or lose, the Vidak campaign was a testing ground for our new model and we are very happy with the results.”
Democratic Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg issued a statement saying he looked forward to welcoming Vidak.
“Valley residents deserve strong leadership and he’ll have every opportunity to hit the ground running and make a meaningful difference,” Steinberg wrote.
He, too, looked forward to 2014: “This may not have been our day, but this district will soon look much different in a higher-turnout, regularly-scheduled election.”
The numbers for Vidak only improved Wednesday as news of the outstanding votes — and a new vote count in Kern County — rolled in.
Vidak held a 5,351-vote lead Wednesday evening after Kern County announced the results of 1,522 late mail ballots. About 7,956 votes remained uncounted in the 16th District’s four counties.
A Californian analysis determined Wednesday afternoon that Perez could not win enough of the uncounted ballots to prevail.
Of the uncounted late absentee and provisional ballots, 6,523 were in Democratic strongholds of Kern and Fresno counties. Perez, if trends held in the remaining Kings and Tulare county votes, would have needed more than 90 percent of those votes to challenge Vidak.
In the days following the May 21 primary, she won only 63 percent of Fresno’s late votes and 70 percent of Kern’s.
By Wednesday afternoon, her campaign determined she couldn’t claim a victory.
“The voters have spoken and I want to congratulate Andy on his victory,” Perez wrote in her statement.