Local Politics

Friday, May 24 2013 07:00 AM

Vidak's margin slipping; Perez still has a chance to force a runoff vote

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    By TOMAS OVALLE / Special to The Californian

    Hanford Republican Andy Vidak has an election party at his spread in Hanford. Vidak is running for the open 16th district state senate seat that was vacated by Democrat Michael Rubio. Vidak is running against Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez.

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    By TOMAS OVALLE / Special to The Californian

    Hanford Republican Andy Vidak prayers appeared to be answered at his election party at his spread in Hanford. Vidak is running for the open 16th district state senate seat that was vacated by Democrat Michael Rubio. Vidak is running against Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez.

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, her husband Fernando Jara and son Jude, 2 pose for a portrait at the Carpenter's Hall in Bakersfield on election night on Tuesday.

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Fernando Jara, left, and Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez listen to their son Jude, 2, lead a cheer for his mother while grandfather Victor Perez smiles at the Carpenter's Hall in Bakersfield on election night on Tuesday.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

The Senate District 16 race may not be decided after all.

Hanford cherry farmer Andy Vidak will probably still seize the outright win. But a new analysis of voting trends by The Californian shows his win isn't certain.

The campaign of runner-up Leticia Perez says it has a slim chance for a second round in her battle with Vidak.

A sharp swing against Vidak in Election Day and late-mail voting could be repeated in the 5,500 votes that remain to be counted in Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.

"It's pretty small," Perez said Thursday. "But there's a chance."

Her campaign manager, Trent Hager, said no matter what, "it's going to be extremely close."

But Vidak's campaign on Thursday didn't believe he will drop below the magic "50 percent plus one vote" margin needed to seize an outright win.

Vidak campaign manager Tim Orman said his worst-case scenario still has Vidak over the barrier by about 355 votes.

"Even in the scenarios that are even worse than my worst-case scenario, (Vidak) stays over 50 percent," Orman said.

Vidak had a cushion of about 800 votes Thursday between himself and that possible July 23 runoff against Perez.

But the voting trends were clearly going against him and 5,500 votes were in play.

Only 135 of those votes were in Kings County, where he hangs his cowboy hat.

The rest were in counties he lost Tuesday.

Most of the votes counted in the race so far -- 42,031 -- were cast and sent in by vote-by-mail voters before Election Day.

Vidak did really well in those early votes -- grabbing 53 percent of them. That's why he's been winning.

Only 14,656 ballots were cast in polling places. But those voters didn't like him as much.

Only 48.8 percent of those voters cast ballots for Vidak, according to a Californian analysis of voting trends.

That analysis shows that, in the polls on Election Day, people in every county except Kings voted against him, and voted against him more forcefully than vote-by-mail voters had.

His poll support in Fresno County was 2.5 percent lower than his mail ballot support there.

In Kern his support dropped by 2 percentage points.

And in Tulare County, where vote-by-mail support for Vidak was 65 percent, only 43.7 percent of the 1,237 poll voters cast ballots for Vidak.

If those trends in late voting hold true in the 5,500 late mail-in and provisional ballots that haven't been counted in the four counties, Vidak's share of the total vote could slip close to the 50 percent level.

If that trend intensifies in remaining votes -- as it did when Vidak claimed only 28 percent of the 1,389 late mail ballots counted in Kern County on Wednesday -- Vidak's share of the total vote count could drop below 50 percent.

That would trigger a runoff election on July 23.

That's why campaign watchers -- and lawyers -- from both camps are watching the final count of ballots in Kern, Kings, Tulare and Fresno county very closely.

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