Republican Andy Vidak led in the 16th Senate District special primary race throughout Tuesday night, but whether he won the seat outright was unclear at press time.
At 11:30 p.m. with all four counties reporting election night final counts., Vidak had 51.9 percent of the vote, leading Democrat Leticia Perez by 5,780 votes. He needed 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff in July.
Vidak was leading by as much as 53 percent earlier in the night.
He said he was cautiously optimistic but he wouldn’t claim victory “until it’s all counted.”
“I’ve been here before,” Vidak said.
The Hanford cherry farmer said his campaign had a common-sense message and that resonated across party lines and allowed him to attract Democratic voters in Kings and Fresno counties.
“People know this valley has been left behind,” he said.
Vidak has watched an election night victory collapse before — in 2010, when it appeared he had beat incumbent Congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno.
It was strong pro-Costa voting from Kern and Fresno counties — counted after election night — that gave Costa the win.
On Tuesday, Vidak was losing both Fresno and Kern counties by large margins but doing well enough in Kings and Tulare counties to offset votes in the larger counties.
But Kern County Elections chief Karen Rhea said that, in Kern County alone, there are 2,063 votes remaining to be counted before the final tally is complete.
The mood at Perez’s campaign party at the Carpenter’s Hall in downtown Bakersfield was subdued Tuesday evening.
Perez said she will go to her job as a Kern County supervisor Wednesday and keep moving forward no matter the outcome.
“We’ve got to keep doing this great, hard work that we know is important to the valley,” she said.
Perez had 41.8 percent of the vote. Democrat Francisco Ramirez had 3.2 percent, Democrat Paulina Miranda 2.8 percent and Peace and Freedom candidate Mohammad Arif .8 percent.
Whether the three kept anyone from winning the seat outright Tuesday night was unclear. Pundits on both sides of the political aisle have said Perez would win a head-to-head contest with Vidak.
“If it goes to a runoff, I think Leticia wins in July,” said Democratic Bakersfield political consultant Gene Tackett. “That’s the conventional wisdom with a Peace and Freedom guy off the ballot and two other Democrats (off as well).”
The 16th District starts in part of the Alta Vista neighborhood of Bakersfield, scoops up most of southeast Bakersfield, sweeps south through Arvin and Lamont, west around Taft and then north along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, grabbing Shafter, Delano and McFarland before moving into Kings and Tulare counties and up to the outskirts of Fresno.
The scramble to fill the post started when Democrat Michael Rubio, the first-term state senator from Shafter, abruptly resigned and took a job as a governmental affairs rep for Chevron.
After a bit of a tussle between Perez and Shafter City Councilwoman Fran Florez over who would run as the top Democrat, Perez won over the state Democratic Party and Florez dropped out.
Vidak launched his campaign with broad-based support from donors in the agri-business community.
But as Perez’s bank account swelled to more than $1 million, filled with state party cash, the Republican Party came through for Vidak, boosting him close to the $1 million mark.
Cash flowed freely from both campaigns, funding negative television and radio campaigns. Both candidates placed conditions on media appearances and skipped debates late in the campaign.
Perez drew widespread criticism for seeking the seat just a couple months after beginning her first term on the Kern County Board of Supervisors. Vidak was criticized by opponents for refusing to attend debates and make on-the-air appearances late in the race.