Local Politics

Tuesday, May 28 2013 10:44 AM

Vidak-Perez runoff battle certain

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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 Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee

    Leticia Perez, center, candidate for state Senate, with her husband, Fernando Jara, left, talks to campaign manager Trent Hager, right, at Perez's headquarters Tuesday afternoon in Fresno.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

All the votes are in — with just some cleanup work left to do in a couple counties — and Republican Andy Vidak is 87 votes shy of winning the 16th Senate District race outright.

Now he must face the second-place finisher, Democrat Leticia Perez, in a July 23 head-to-head runoff.

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Vidak said Tuesday he isn’t frustrated with the outcome, a turnaround from mid-last week when many declared him the outright winner.

“We won by almost 4,000 votes,” he said of coming in with the most votes, just not enough to avoid a runoff. “We have a great message. We did a great job.”

Republicans’ thin hope that Vidak might be able skip that runoff — by collecting just more than 50 percent of the vote — died Tuesday, a week after the election, when Kings County announced the tally of an additional 139 votes and Tulare County said that it had already tallied and reported — on Friday — the results of the 170 votes that were believed to be outstanding there.

That left Vidak with 31,606 votes, or 49.86 percent of all ballots cast, in the sprawling 16th District. Perez came in second with 27,800 votes, or 43.85 percent.

Three other hopefuls captured the rest.

Tim Orman, Vidak’s campaign manager, said the campaign could pursue a recount of ballots in some areas of the district.

“We’re going to look into it. We haven’t ruled it out. But at this point I don’t think so,” he said.

The number of votes needed to swing Vidak’s direction is simply too large, he said, and he isn’t certain that it’s really what the campaign should be focusing on.

“If we do do a recount, we’re thinking about that and putting our resources into that — when we should be out talking to voters. It’s their choice,” Orman said.

There is no automatic recount in this race.

Kern County Elections chief Karen Rhea said any voter, or any campaign, can choose to ask for a recount but they must do it within five days of the results being certified and they must pay for the recount.

The recount process is largely controlled by the entity seeking a recount. They set which counties and precincts would be counted first and can continue, or stop, the process at the end of any counting day.

But any change in the status of the campaign could then be challenged by the opposing camp.

Perez — who conceded to Vidak the morning after Election Day — said her focus is on her campaign, which is once again running in full force.

He said ultimately, Vidak garnered the most votes in the primary and will keep the same focus in the runoff — telling people who Vidak is and why they should vote for him.

Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the statewide political watch book The California Target Book, wouldn’t say whether it is possible or impossible for Vidak to win a runoff.

In the runoff, he said, the heavy Democratic registration of the district and the large number of Latinos give Perez the advantage.

Vidak has to do everything he can “to make sure it doesn’t become an R(epublican) vs D(emocrat) race,” and “has to make some inroads and get some key Latino votes,” Hoffenblum said.

“Which are two things we’ve done, I think, pretty darn well,” Orman said. “We’re excited. We beat her once. We’ll beat her again.”

Vidak’s campaign message trended toward the middle during the primary and he promised, in an interview with The Californian’s editorial board, that he wouldn’t be one of those “crazy right-wing guys.”

Nothing was different in his message Tuesday.

“There are no party lines, only common sense,” Vidak said.

Perez said she was “Excited and enthusiastic about a one-on-one debate with Andy Vidak. We’ve reactivated our campaign. We’re back on the ground. We did not take Memorial Day off.”

She said Vidak’s performance in the primary was what her campaign expected, even planned on.

“I’d say he’s one point up at halftime,” Perez said.

Her campaign, she said, always knew that her relatively obscure profile across the district — she was a Kern County supervisor for just a couple months before running for state Senate — would hurt her ability to win in a field of five candidates.

“We knew, as voters got to know me better, that voters would be more inclined to vote for me,” Perez said.

That, she said, is what led to the strong voting trends that whittled away at Vidak’s majority vote and ultimately dropped him below 50 percent.

“This is now the only race the Democratic Party has in the state of California,” Perez said.

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