How did a perennial nail biter -- the 30th state Assembly District race -- turn into a cakewalk for a political newbie?
Democrat Fran Florez, 67, suffered a sound defeat, trailing Republican David Valadao by 24 percentage points Wednesday afternoon. Her loss also bucked a statewide trend that saw Democrats gain ground in the Assembly after Tuesday's vote.
Florez said it came down to cash.
"We had a limited amount of funds," she said Wednesday while stopped for lunch at In-N-Out Burger before heading to Sacramento for a high-speed rail meeting. "When all of the negative mailers hit, we had no way to fight back."
She also thinks anti-incumbent sentiment played a part. While she hasn't held a state seat, Florez ran for the 30th in 2008, has served on the Shafter City Council and is linked to her son Dean Florez, the state Senator who's now termed out.
"I think (voters) just lumped us together" with incumbents, she said.
Valadao, a Hanford dairyman, was cautious about declaring victory despite his huge lead.
"Fran did call me this morning" to concede, he said.
The good results came from "just getting out and talking to people" to get his message out, he said.
Valadao, 33, spent election night with fellow Hanford farmer and political newcomer Andy Vidak, who held a slight lead over Democratic incumbent Jim Costa in the 20th Congressional District race, though thousands of votes remained uncounted.
"I'm still kind of waking up from last night," Valadao said.
He'll be sworn in Dec. 6 and wants to focus on water issues and jobs right away.
"I think it got to the point that Fran Florez was carrying too much baggage," said political analyst Allan Hoffenblum. Hoffenblum is the Los Angeles-based publisher of the California Target Book, which provides nonpartisan analysis of state races.
Unlike Valadao, Florez faced a tough primary fight against Pete Parra that highlighted the long-running feud between the Florez and Parra families, he said. Parra’s daughter, Nicole Parra, held the 30th seat for three terms before terming out and crossing party lines to endorse current 30th Assemblyman Danny Gilmore, R-Hanford, in 2008.
Gilmore is stepping down after just one term.
The feud probably hurt Florez more than the Parras this year, Hoffenblum said, and the Parras' endorsements of Valadao may have affected the Latino vote.
While everyone talks about the Republican tidal waving stopping at California's border, Hoffenblum added, that's not the case in the Central Valley. Democrats here are conservative and not fiercely partisan voters.
With the valley's high unemployment rates and water issues, "Central Valley Democrats took it in the shorts," Hoffenblum said.
Bill Thomas, Bakersfield's retired Republican congressman, said Florez came to the race with a political deficit even before anti-incumbent fervor exploded.
"She lost last time in the same race," Thomas said. "When you run and lose and run again, you still have the negatives."
Thomas also believes the Florez-Parra feud was a factor. Leaving the rift to fester may have split loyalties and deflected votes away from Florez.
"She didn't mend fences," he said.
Nicole Parra, now a political consultant and decline-to-state voter who was subcontracted to help with Valadao's campaign, pointed to other baggage for Fran Florez: her son.
Some voters in the district are "definitely anti-Dean Florez," Parra said. "I know that for sure."
Valadao's ability to connect, support from Parra and her father and a high turnout created a tsunami effect, she said.
"She did not have a good shot," Parra said, adding the gap will tighten as more ballots are counted.
When asked if the feud hurt Florez as some have suggested, Parra gingerly sidestepped.
"Obviously, I wouldn't be asked to endorse or help if my polling numbers were not high," she said.
Assembly Speaker John Perez, who stopped in Bakersfield to stump for Florez the weekend before the election, held a conference call with reporters Wednesday to trumpet his party's success.
"California Democrats, especially Assembly Democrats, were able to buck the national tide" by gaining ground Tuesday, he said.
Florez's tale, however, doesn't fit that narrative, and the party gave her much less financial support this time around than in 2008.
"Fran ran a very strong campaign," Perez said when asked if polling was part of the decision to shuttle less money to the 30th contest.
"We tried what we could to help her," Perez said, adding: "We'll be looking at that seat in the future."
-- Staff writer Steven Mayer contributed to this story