Will the third win be a charm for Congressman David Valadao?
Valadao, R-Hanford, is on pace to capture his most impressive victory in California’s 21st Congressional District race.
And that could make Democrats leery about taking another tilt his seat, at least until new district lines are put into action in 2022.
This year's Democratic challenger, Emilio Huerta, hasn’t conceded yet.
But a Californian analysis shows Huerta has lost the race with Valadao claiming as much as 58.3 percent of the vote when the more than 35,000 outstanding ballots that are estimated in the district have been counted.
Valadao has now won the Democrat-heavy 21st District handily three times — the first two by 57.8 percent.
And observers say that could spell irrelevance for Democrats in the district.
Democrats hold a 17-point registration advantage over Republicans in the 21st District. A majority of its voters are Latino. And the Republican candidate for president of the United States had labeled large numbers of illegal Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists.
But Valadao will win handily.
And that, observers say, may force Democrats to think twice about mounting a serious challenge against Valadao two years from now.
“When you start hovering around 60 percent, I’d say that’s safe,” said Cal State Bakersfield political science Professor Kent Price. “It’s clearly not competitive with a Hispanic candidate and that’s what everybody’s logic tells us the district needs.”
On Monday, Valadao had 58.9 percent of the vote with an estimated 35,000 outstanding ballots to count in the Kern, Fresno, Kings and Tulare county sections of the 21st District.
Huerta was leading only in his home county of Kern, with only 53.8 percent.
More than half of the remaining votes were in territory where Valadao was winning emphatically. Kern County, Huerta's stronghold, has not updated its numbers in this and all other races since last Wednesday morning.
If things continue as they have been, a Californian analysis shows, Valadao would end up with more than 58 percent of the votes.
Fresno County was delivering 61 percent of its votes to the Republican despite the fact Democrats hold a nine-point registration advantage there.
According to the Californian’s analysis of the trends, Huerta would need 72 percent of the outstanding votes in the 21st District to squeak out a one-vote win.
“That’s not going to happen,” Price said.
Price said the Huerta campaign struggled to connect with voters and introduce them to its candidate, a Bakersfield attorney and son of United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta.
One explanation for the Fresno results, he said, could be the fact Huerta wasn’t known there.
“At least in Kern we may have known of him,” Price said.
Huerta focused much of his effort on trying to connect face-to-face with voters in the 21st District, which sprawls from east Bakersfield, Arvin and Lamont through Kings County and western Tulare County to rural west Fresno County.
“We didn’t have the money to have $1 million of TV time. Clearly money made the difference here,” Huerta said.
In Fresno County, voters who didn’t meet Huerta in person only saw a series of very aggressive negative television ads launched against Huerta by Valadao that painted him as greedy, corrupt and dangerous.
“You have to give the voter a positive narrative about who you are,” Price said. “All you ever saw of Emilio was he was a chainsaw-carrying guy who benefited from a huge land deal.”
National Democratic groups supported Huerta strongly with independent campaign ads trying to tie Valadao to President-elect Donald Trump — whose anti-immigrant rhetoric was counted on to help turn out Latino voters.
But those ads don’t seem to have worked.
Valadao campaign spokesman Cole Rojewski said the reason voters supported Valadao is that they know him and feel he was the best choice.
He said Valadao, this year, outperformed his results from previous elections in all four counties, even Kern where he is losing.
“Voters know and trust David,” Rojewski said. “The most surprising for us was the number of Hispanics and Democrats that turned out for us.”
Price said the key to understanding the politics of the 21st District is to understand that voters there aren't really committed to one political party or the other.
"Moderate to conservative ideologies carry the day," he said.
Democrats who have run against Valadao have been more liberal, Price said, than the district's voters like.
Huerta said he is still proud of the race and is committed to working in the legal and nonprofit arena to help improve air and water quality and jobs for Central Valley families.
“I don’t think anyone predicted that we would win the race at all,” Huerta said. “Looking at everything we accomplished, we think we did a pretty good job. We didn’t expect the national mood to be so conservative.”