Local Politics

Saturday, May 31 2014 03:00 PM

In the valley, Tuesday's voting just an early round

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BY JAMES BURGER AND THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writers jburger@bakersfield.com, tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Tuesday will certainly mark a turning point in contests for two San Joaquin Valley state legislative seats and a congressional one in the rural, heavily Democratic territories along the south valley's west side.

The candidate lists will be whittled down to two names.

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HIGHLY CONTESTED RACES
(Top 2 advance to November)

32nd Assembly District

ROMEO AGBALOG
Age: 34
Hometown: Delano
Occupation: Senior field representative for state Sen. Jean Fuller; Delano Union School District trustee.
Education: Attended Bakersfield College; studied business and public administration at the University of Phoenix
Family: Married with five children.
Party preference: Republican
Web: romeoforassembly.com
Endorsements: Former Congressman Bill Thomas, Congressmen David Valadao and Devin Nunes, state Sen. Jean Fuller, Assemblymember Connie Conway, Kern County Supervisor David Couch, Republican Party of Kings County, California Republican Assembly, Kings County Young Republicans

PEDRO RIOS
Age: 41
Hometown: Delano
Occupation: Teacher at Tactical Character Academy in Ceres; farmer
Education: Bachelor's degree in history from Cal State Bakersfield
Family: Married
Party preference: Republican
Web: www.pedrorios.com
Endorsements: Kern County Young Republicans, California Republican National Hispanic Assembly, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove

RUDY SALAS
Age: 36
Hometown: Bakersfield
Occupation: Incumbent 32nd District assemblyman
Education: Bachelor's degrees in political science and history, both from UCLA
Family: Unmarried
Party preference: Democratic
Web: rudysalas.com
Endorsements: Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce PAC, Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall, California Professional Firefighters, Peace Officers Research Association of California, California Teachers Association, California Association of Highway Patrolmen


21st Congressional District

JOHN HERNANDEZ
Age: 44
Hometown: Fresno
Occupation: Former CEO, Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Education: Bachelor's degree in history, Fresno State
Family: Married
Party preference: Democratic
Web: www.johnhernandezforcongress.com

AMANDA RENTERIA
Age: 39
Hometown: Sanger
Occupation: Former Senate chief of staff
Education: Bachelor's degree in economics and political science, Stanford University; MBA, Harvard University
Family: Married, two children
Party preference: Democratic
Web: www.amandarenteria.com
Endorsements: California Democratic Party, SEIU California, AFSCME California, Teamsters Joint Council 7, California Labor Federation, California School Employees Association, Bakersfield City Firefighters, Kern, Inyo, Mono Counties Central Labor Council

DAVID VALADAO
Age: 37
Hometown: Hanford
Occupation: Congressman, farmer
Education: Hanford High School
Family: Married, three children
Party preference: Republican
Web: www.valadaoforcongress.com
Endorsements: The Bakersfield Californian, California Farm Bureau, The Fresno Bee, Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, Kern Law Enforcement Association, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hal, Kern County Supervisor David Couch

Kern County Assessor-Recorder

RUSSELL JOHNSON
Age: 34
Hometown: Bakersfield
Occupation: Owns public affairs and community relations business, Bakersfield city councilman
Education: History degree from UC Santa Barbara
Family: Married
Web: http://johnsonforassessor2014.com
Endorsements: Kern County Treasurer-Tax Collector Jackie Denney, Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green, Kern County Supervisors Leticia Perez, Mike Maggard and David Couch, state Sen. Andy Vidak, Bakersfield Mayor Harvey L. Hall

LUPE ESQUIVIAS
Age: 44
Hometown: Arvin
Occupation: Assessor’s office appraiser
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration, management information systems, Cal State Bakersfield
Family: Married, two children
Web: www.lupe4assessor.com
Endorsements: Arvin Mayor Jose Flores

JON LIFQUIST
Age: 55
Hometown: Bakersfield
Occupation: Assessor’s office chief appraiser
Education: Graduated from Cal State Bakersfield
Family: Married, four children
Web: www.lifquist4assessor.com
Endorsements: Congressman Kevin McCarthy, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, The Californian, Ridgecrest Daily Independent, Kern County Supervisor Zack Scrivner, Kern County Assessor-Recorder Jim Fitch


14th Senate District
(Both candidates will advance to November)

LUIS CHAVEZ
Age: 34
Hometown: Fresno
Occupation: Chief of staff for Fresno District 5 Councilman Sal Quintero; Fresno Unified School District trustee
Education: Master's degree in public administration, Fresno State
Family: Married, two children
Party preference: Democratic
Endorsements: California Teachers Association, Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, Bakersfield Councilman Willie Rivera, Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, several Fresno city councilmembers
Web: www.luischavez2014.com

ANDY VIDAK
Age: 48
Hometown: Hanford
Occupation: Cherry farmer; cattle rancher; partner in a lettuce cooling business
Education: Bachelor's degree in animal business, Texas Tech
Family: Unmarried
Party preference: Republican
Web: www.vidakforsenate.com
Endorsements: Kern County Supervisors David Couch, Mike Maggard, Zack Scrivner, Mick Gleason, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall
 

But political observers from both parties say people won't be able to read the outcome of November's general election from the results.

"It's a whole new election," Democratic political analyst Gene Tackett said. "You have to run again and it's all about getting your vote out."

Here's what's predicted Tuesday: Democratic voters will poll behind Republicans in the 21st Congressional and 14th Senate districts, giving incumbent state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, and Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, first-round wins.

Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, should fare better against poorly funded Republican candidates Pedro Rios and Romeo Agbalog.

Then, observers say, the November general election is a whole new ball game.

A head-to-head contest between Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and a Republican challenger could rally Democrats to the polls -- especially if that Republican opposes comprehensive immigration reform, they say.

And, with only two candidates in each race, campaigns will be free to focus on defeating one person.

But the bottom line is that thousands of voters who didn't cast ballots in June will take action in November. And -- in these Democratic districts -- that helps Democrats.

Turnout, observers say, will be everything.

ADVANTAGE

Looking at the raw registration numbers, Democrats should win all three seats by commanding margins Tuesday.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 14.25 percentage points in the 21st Congressional District and by 17.25 percentage points in the 14th Senate District.

But races are decided by those who vote, not those who could vote.

Without a presidential, U.S. Senate or competitive statewide contest, there is little, observers say, to attract Democratic voters to the polls.

Republican political analyst Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, said he expects to see Democrats in the valley poll somewhere around 10 percent lower than Republicans.

Vidak and Valadao will likely do well in June. But that's no guarantee they will sail to easy wins in November, he said.

And a united Republican Party will still have to fight hard to push Salas out of office.

Hoffenblum said Democrats suffered first-round losses in a number of races in 2012 only to win solidly in head-to-head contests in the general election.

After Tuesday, he said, "All you're going to know is who the top two (candidates) are."

CONGRESS

Tal Eslick, spokesman for Valadao's campaign, agreed that the voting public shouldn't place too much emphasis on Tuesday's numbers.

Hoffenblum said former U.S. Senate staffer Amanda Renteria is very likely to beat out fellow Democrat John Hernandez -- who appears to be running on a shoe-string budget -- for the right to face Valadao.

Renteria spokesperson Maria Machuca said spending by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Valadao and attack ads leveled at Renteria prove the Valadao camp takes her as a serious general election threat.

Democrats turn out more aggressively in general elections, she said, and the Renteria camp is confident it can turn the tables on Valadao in November.

"We are very comfortable about how things are right now and where things are," Machuca said.

Eslick said party registration numbers mean less in this election because Valadao has proven he can attract Democratic voters.

"The 21st Congressional District is unique in that voters are willing to cross party lines, in primary and general elections, he wrote in an email. "Voters will support the candidate who shares their values and best represents the 21st District."

SENATE

Tuesday's results might be a little more telling in the 14th Senate District race.

Only two candidates are running -- Vidak and Democratic challenger Luis Chavez -- so this primary contest serves as a rehearsal for November.

This time last year, Vidak was just a cherry farmer hoping to capture the 16th Senate District. He realized his dream by beating Democratic Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez in a summer special match-up.

Now Chavez, a Fresno Unified School District trustee and the chief of staff for a Fresno councilman, is the outsider.

And Vidak has the upper hand.

Vidak had more than $320,000 in the bank in mid-May. Chavez spent heavily to get into the race and had only $52,000 in the bank and $49,000 in debt.

Chavez's campaign manager, Mark Scozzari, said with both men guaranteed a spot on the November ballot, Tuesday is just a "pre-season game."

"If you take away his accrued expenses, he only has about $3,000 left. We feel pretty good about where we are," said Steve Presson, a Vidak consultant. "He's done a decent TV buy, but we'll see on election night whether it's enough."

Hoffenblum said that a win for Vidak Tuesday can't been seen as a guarantee of victory in the general election.

The wild card in all the west valley races -- Hoffenblum believes -- is conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly, an anti-immigration firebrand.

If Republicans pick Donnelly over the more moderate Neel Kashkari, Hoffenblum argues, "it could be disasterous for down-ballot races."

Latinos will turn out "very heavily," he said, to defeat a man who patrolled the U.S. border to repel immigrants entering the country illegally.

Valadao and Vidak would need, Hoffenblum said, "a huge amount of people who were voting for Jerry Brown voting for them, too."

ASSEMBLY

Salas' primary contest is a little more predictable, said Democratic campaign consultant Tackett.

"It's a challenge for everyone but Salas," he said. "The candidates are much weaker. I think he will do well and do well in November."

In the primary two years ago, Pedro Rios wrested the Republican nomination for the 32nd Assembly District away from Jon McQuiston without much cat-calling.

This time, it's different. After 16 months as an incumbent, Salas is a virtual certainty on the November ballot.

Rios, a teacher and farmer, is back but faces a well-connected adversary in Agbalog, a Delano school board trustee and staffer for state Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield.

Agbalog has been endorsed by Fuller, Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Visalia, and former Congressman Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield.

REPUBLICANISM

Hoffenblum sees 2014's elections in the valley as a window into the future of the Republican Party in California.

"If there is any growth in Republicanism, it's going to be in the Central Valley," he said.

Valadao and Vidak have both built moderate messages that strike the right tone on hot-button issues like immigration, Hoffenblum said.

"Republicans in the valley are going their own way and they're not listening to some Republican down in Orange County with 2 percent Latino registration," he said.

Tackett said Vidak and Valadao have "crafted a message that reaches out to those independents and the people who turn out in any election."

He said their messages are not unlike the moderate, business-friendly Democratic stances that powered Michael Rubio and Dean Florez to victory in these same districts in previous years.

But ultimately Latino Democrats will claim victory in west valley districts, Tackett said.

"In the southern valley, from Fresno to Bakersfield, the coming votes are from Latinos," he said. "They will get organized."

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