The Central Valley's 16th Senate District primary results are now in a week after the election. Republican Andy Vidak of Hanford ran hard and ended up with 49.82 percent of the vote in a field of five candidates. Democrat Leticia Perez of Bakersfield placed second with 43.86 percent. Democrats hold a 22-point registration edge in this largely Hispanic district.
Any analysis of this race should begin with a comparison of the district's current voter registration statistics and what the district will look like in 2014, when it becomes the new 14th Senate District. This is important regardless of a Vidak or Perez win in the July 23 general election runoff, as the winner will face re-election in 2014.
The 16th Senate District is currently 50.41 percent Democrat, 28.43 percent Republican and 21.16 percent independent and "other." The new 14th District in 2014 is 48.17 percent Democrat, 30.73 percent Republican and 21.1 percent independent and "other." The gap in registration from the old 16th District to the new 14th District goes from 21.98 percent to 17.44 percent, a drop of 4.54 percent.
Perez, a Kern County supervisor, did not do nearly as well as she needed to do to win outright. In Kern County, her perceived base, she needed well over 60 percent but received 58.02 percent. She would have done better, especially in Kern, if two other Democrats had not been in the race. Vidak, a cherry farmer, lost handily to Perez in Kern but garnered a respectable 41.64 percent of the vote to Perez's 50.5 percent in Fresno County.
This southern San Joaquin Valley seat could remain in Republican hands for many years if Vidak wins the runoff, but it could be an uphill battle for him if Perez is able to get a larger turnout of Democrats in the general. Vidak had greater name recognition throughout the district, having lost a hotly contested congressional race to Jim Costa two years ago.
Will voters tire of having to vote in a second special election in the middle of summer? Will the campaign center on the candidates' differences on the issues or devolve into sniping over character and partisan politics? Certainly Perez should avoid lunkhead ploys as she did in using a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe to woo voters; Vidak should not shun the light of day as he did in refusing to be videotaped during his interview with The Californian's editorial board at which he was seeking the paper's endorsement.
Assuming for a moment that Vidak wins the July general election, let's look at some other Central Valley state Senate elections over the years to see why he might be able to hold on to this seat in succeeding elections.
Assemblyman Rusty Areias, D-Los Banos, lost to Bruce McPearson, R-Santa Cruz, a liberal Republican, and could not hold the seat for Democrats when Democratic Sen. Henry Mello left in 1996 due to term limits. That district covered Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties, and the southern portion of Santa Clara County. Democrats far outnumbered Republicans in this district.
In 2002, Jeff Denham, a conservative Republican, won in a newly formed district by defeating Areias, 48 percent to 47 percent, even though Democrats had nearly a 15 percent voter registration advantage. Denham was re-elected four years later with 58 percent of the vote in a bitter campaign against Democratic Assemblyman Sal Cannella.
In November 2010, Democratic Assemblywoman Anna Caballaro ran for this Senate seat. She already represented part of the district, but could not win even though Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 15 percentage points. She lost to personable Republican Anthony Cannella, the son of former Democratic Assemblyman Sal Cannella, and Anthony Cannella quickly has established himself as a moderate Republican, which will help him in a district with a Democratic registration advantage of 18 percentage points.
For Perez's part, should she win in July, being a centrist and demonstrating an independent streak in Sacramento would be political keys for her. Republicans Denham and Cannella proved they could win in districts with Democratic registration advantages of 15 percent and 18 percent, respectively. In 2014, the new 14th Senate District will have Democrats outnumbering Republicans somewhere around 17 percent. Perez would be in a vulnerable position in seeking re-election. Being conscientious and a hard worker while staying in touch with her constituents would go a long way to ward off a strong Republican challenger.
Mark C. Salvaggio was a Bakersfield city councilman from 1985 to 2004.