BY JOHN ELLIS Fresno Bee
By just about every measure, Republican David Valadao has the upper hand on Democrat John Hernandez in their 21st Congressional District race.
Hernandez is an under-funded candidate who wasn't even backed by his own party heading into the June primary. Valadao is a sitting Assembly member with a healthy campaign account and strong ties to Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare.
21ST CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Occupation: CEO, Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Education: Bachelor's degree in history, Fresno State
Party preference: Democrat
Occupation: Dairyman, freshman state Assembly member
Education: Hanford High School
Family: Married, three children
Party preference: Republican
Still, Hernandez is predicting an upset.
"I believe when the dust settles, there's going to be a big surprise," he said.
Hernandez's primary evidence is voter-registration statistics that show Democrats growing their lead over Republicans in the district. But he's also talking about a recently published article in the National Journal -- a nonpartisan magazine that covers national politics and policy -- that suggested "private polling is moving the wrong way" for Valadao.
Hernandez, 43, also has history on his side. The valley has long had a west-side congressional district, and for the past two decades it has been represented by Democrats -- first Cal Dooley and most recently Jim Costa, who is now running in a different district.
The most recent voter-registration statistics show Democrats with an almost 15 percentage-point advantage -- 47.5 percent to 32.8 percent -- in the district. In raw numbers, the difference is close to 29,000 voters, an increase of a little more than 2,400 Democrats since the primary election.
But Valadao, 35, points out that he faced a similar registration disadvantage in his 2010 Assembly race, and he won more than 60 percent of the vote against a better-known candidate -- Fran Florez, the mother of former state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter.
In fact, an overwhelming amount of evidence suggests that Valadao remains the favorite.
Start with the complete lack of national political party money coming to either candidate, a sign of a noncompetitive race. In the 10th Congressional District battle between incumbent Republican Jeff Denham and Democratic challenger Jose Hernandez, by comparison, both parties are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race.
As of June 30, Valadao had more than $650,000 in his campaign coffers, while Hernandez was $1,600 in debt. Updated numbers won't be released until Monday.
Then there's election forecasters such as the Rothenberg Political Report, which doesn't even list the matchup among its list of competitive races.
Finally, there's the newly redrawn district itself: Valadao already represents much of it as an Assembly member.
For voters, the choice couldn't be much clearer.
Valadao is a Hanford dairy farmer who lives in the heart of the 21st District. He is a solid Republican with political stances including loosening environmental regulations, reforming the federal Endangered Species Act and other small-government initiatives that are Republican cornerstones.
He favors a workable guest-worker program as a solution to the immigration issue and opposes the state's proposed high-speed rail project.
Hernandez, by comparison, is a Fresno resident -- that places him outside the district -- and chief executive of the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
He wants a path to citizenship for immigrants who are not in the country legally but have worked for a period of time and not been arrested. He supports not only the high-speed rail project, but other government infrastructure projects of the kind he said helped the nation emerge from the Great Depression.
One area Hernandez highlights is getting clean water to Kettleman City, which he said is badly needed. He said all Valadao talks about is the cost. "David puts a price tag on everything," Hernandez said.
Valadao said he also wants clean water for Kettleman City, but the bids range from $7 million to $16 million to fix the problem. "You can't just say it," Valadao said. "You must figure out how to fix it, and cost is a major issue."
With the choice that clear-cut, the race will likely come down to turnout.
Hernandez said he has a strong reputation in the Hispanic community that will be the difference.
"I've been working these communities for years," he said.
Valadao counters: "We're running like it's a competitive race. We're out there every single day talking to voters."