Emilio Huerta admitted Monday that he just didn’t have enough money to challenge Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, to a 2018 election battle. So he chose to get out of the way for someone with more cash and a better chance.
Who that person is has not been announced yet.
But Huerta, the son of civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, said he will now dedicate himself to building a political organization that will cultivate and support grassroots Democratic candidates as they run for office in the southern San Joaquin Valley.
“The decision to leave was based on my overall plan and my desire to create an opportunity for an organization to recruit new candidates,” Huerta said.
From the beginning, since he announced his unsuccessful 2016 run against Valadao, Huerta said he had hoped – win or lose — to inspire a growing collection of Democrats to run for political office in the southern valley.
“That’s still the goal,” Huerta said.
Deciding to drop his candidacy wasn’t easy.
But Huerta said he read the writing on the wall.
“We knew we would have to bring in some big money early on to combat Valadao’s attack ads and his baseless character assassination,” Huerta said. “That’s how we lost last time.”
In 2016, he said, his campaign didn’t have the money to respond quickly to Valadao’s advertising, which peppered him with dramatic claims and images.
Huerta said they heard Valadao was going to “double down” on that same campaign strategy.
“We knew that if we didn’t have enough money to respond early — even as early as the primary — we couldn’t win,” Huerta said.
And, Huerta said, they missed their campaign finance targets.
Huerta, the only Democrat in the race until Monday, earned the California Democratic Party’s endorsement less than two weeks ago.
But his anemic fundraising — he had only $96,553 on hand as of the end of 2017 —and low profile on the campaign trail drew critical stories from the Los Angeles Times and CNBC, among others.
They questioned Huerta’s ability to beat Valadao.
Valadao had $981,189 in his bank account at the beginning of 2018 – more than 10 times what Huerta could boast.
And Huerta delivered a soft performance against Valadao in 2016.
He lost by 13.4 percent of the vote in a strong Democratic district that picked Hillary Clinton for president over Donald Trump by 15.5 percent in 2016.
Cal State Bakersfield political science professor Mark Martinez said Huerta has probably disappointed a number of locals here with his decision.
“It’s kind of a shocker dropping out this late,” he said.
But Martinez said the issue of funding for the race was a critical one.
“Emilio would have needed at least $2 (million) to $3 million dollars,” Martinez said.
But he didn’t have the money. And that, Martinez said, would mean relying on donations from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the political arm of the national party for House races.
And, he said, the DCCC hasn’t shown a lot of wisdom when they’ve taken an active role in local races.
“Washington doesn’t get this place,” Martinez said.
National leaders have a notion that, “because you have Latinos and because it’s California and because the demographics go one way,” they should win easily in the 21st Congressional District, Martinez said.
And yet Democrats have lost handily to Valadao in three straight elections.
Huerta said another, self-funded candidate wanted to step into the race and so he stepped aside.
Now, he said, he has a chance to do real, serious work to help build up Democratic and progressive leaders in the southern valley.
“I have the opportunity to build a base,” Huerta said. “My knowledge about campaign politics is light years ahead of where it was two years ago.”
He said he plans to use that information to make a difference in the political bedrock of the area he once sought to represent.
“There are battles that we should have taken on six or seven years ago, like the Board of Supervisors realignment,” Huerta said.
Those battles will get more attention now, he said.
“For generations, this valley has pulled victories from the soil. We’ve grown leaders who changed the face of American politics and brought new hope to defeated communities across the world,” Huerta wrote in an opinion article delivered to The Californian on Friday. “We’ve grown strong men and strong women who stood up to the powerful, and I believe we can do it again. Our greatest contribution to America is not simply the crops that feed the world, but the courage to stand up and lead.”