The SD-16 race so far has been very close. The Democrats nominated Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez (D) whose campaign platform is increasing the minimum wage and supporting the high speed rail project (the high speed rail project is a very contentious issue in the Central Valley with some voters supporting it due to job creation and others opposing it saying it is a waste of tax dollars.) The Republicans have nominated Andy Vidak (R), a rancher from Kings County who ran against Rep. Jim Costa (D) in 2010 under similar district lines and nearly beat Costa. This race is drawing attention, $400,000 was spent on TV ads between June 9th and July 6th and experts predict that $4.5 million will be spent on the race. Even though President Obama won 58% of the vote in 2008 in this district, Vidak nearly won the primary, winning 49.8% of the vote on May 21st, 2013. This primary featured candidates from all parties and if no candidate received 50% of the vote or more, there would be a July 23rd runoff. Vidak at first seemed to have won with 51.9% of the vote on the morning after election day but after late provisional ballots were counted, his vote percentage dropped to 49.8%. Perez received about 43% of the vote but the rest of the votes that Perez and Vidak did not win went to Democrats so hopefully Perez can win over those voters. This post though will feature a description of the district and show the county baselines for Perez.
I previously wrote a similar post focusing more on turnout in SD-16 and why Leticia Perez should not concede. It was written just after the May 21st primary. It can be found here:
map of SD-16:
President Obama's 2008 numbers in SD-16:
Supervisor Perez's numbers in the 2013 primary:
The Fresno County part of this district is heavily Hispanic. It excludes the more conservative areas such as Clovis and contains inner city Fresno and some farming areas in the western part of the county, including the area along the I-5 with the "Congress created the dust bowl" signs. Even though the sign owners may be Republicans, the large majority of the population in this part of the district are Democratic leaning Hispanics. Many of them however are migrant workers who do not have a permanent residence and even more may be undocumented. This part of the district will be helped by the high speed rail which will be built through Fresno and create jobs there. Jobs are an important issue here for voters who were hurt by the 2008 foreclosure crisis. This area usually votes Democratic (President Obama won around 66% of the vote here in 2008,) but can Perez motivate enough Democrats in this district, especially Hispanic ones to turn out in this off year special election?
Kings County is 50% Hispanic but that number should not fool anyone, it is a heavily Republican area, voting 57% for Romney in 2012. Kings County is also Vidak's home county. The main city here is Hanford and the main industry is farming (prisons also have a presence here too.) Ranching and farming is also large here but the turnout among Hispanic voters is low, allowing the white voters who generally vote 70%+ Republican in this district to cast the large majority of votes. Many argue this district is culturally closer to Texas than Los Angeles, despite being around 2.5 hours from Los Angeles and much farther from Texas. Despite having lower turnout in 2008 than the Kern County part of SD-16, Kings County had higher turnout in the 2013 primary which hurt Perez, especially since Kings County voted 74% for Vidak.
Tulare County is similar to Kings County demographically and economically. SD-16 only represents part of Tulare County and that part of Tulare County voted for President Obama in 2008 with 53% of the vote. Vidak won 59% of the vote in that portion though, mainly due to lower Hispanic turnout (this portion of Tulare County represents rural areas with large populations of Hispanic farm workers.) This district also excludes the major urban areas in Tulare County such as Visalia.
Perez needs to perform extremely well here in order to win. Although Kern County as a whole voted 57% for Romney, this part of Kern County is heavily Democratic and contains heavily Hispanic areas such as Delano and eastern Bakersfield. Delano was the former headquarters for Cesar Chavez and like other towns in the district such as Wasco, has a large agricultural presence. Perez actually underperformed President Obama the least here, he won about 65% of the vote in 2008 in this part of SD-16 and she won about 60%. The reason is that this is her home area. Many volunteers from Los Angeles were working hard in the district last weekend (I helped volunteer with a group last April in Bakersfield and noticed that the minimum wage platform was very helpful with the voters I talked to,) so hopefully they can help Perez win big here.
Here are the benchmarks from each county for Perez to win with about 51%, assuming turnout rates are similar to the primary. To calculate the benchmarks, I relied on the results from the May 21st primary.
Fresno: Perez 59-41
Kern: Perez 66-34
Kings: Perez 27-73
Tulare: Perez 42-58
The Central Valley has a long history of having low Democratic turnout in non Presidential elections. The 2010 midterms had low turnout where Rep. Jim Costa (D) nearly lost his seat which voted 59% for President Obama. Jerry Brown also won 42% of the vote in Fresno County, despite voting 50% for President Obama in 2012. Brown also faced Whitman who was unpopular with most Hispanics due to the housekeeper issue. Another turnout fact about the Central Valley is that many provisional ballots are counted after election day and these ballots tend to favor Democrats (for example, Costa won 54.6% by election day morning but that increased to 57.9% once the provisional ballots were counted. Ballots counted after election day also include absentee ballots dropped off at polling places on election day.) Costa also appeared to have lost in 2010 until the provisional reported and gave him a win. In 2012, President Obama lost Fresno by 2% before the provisionals were counted and won by 2% when they were counted. The example that applies to this race is the May 21st primary where Vidak won with 51.9% of the vote and Perez conceded but the provisional ballots reduced Vidak's percentage to 49.8%. If Vidak does not receive more than 52% of the vote by the morning of Wednesday, July 24th, then expect a long wait until all the votes are counted.
Overall, on election night, keep three questions while watching the returns: 1. Is Fresno County voting strongly for Perez the same way Kern County probably will? 2. Is Kings County having higher or lower turnout than Kern County which had higher turnout in 2008 but lower turnout in the 2013 primary? 3. If Vidak is ahead by Wednesday morning, did he win less than 52% of the vote so the provisionals can make up the ground? Keep these questions in mind to find out who will control this crucial seat for the 2/3rd majority in the California State Senate.
*Disclaimer: while I volunteered for this race last April, the views espoused in this article do not express the views of Supervisor Perez's campaign. This article espouses my views only.