How does a Republican, middle-aged white guy win an election in a majority Hispanic and Democratic district? Quite handily it seems. Andy Vidak won 52.2% of the vote in the 16th Senate District (SD16) Special Election on July 23rd.
With Vidak’s victory, Republicans are chipping away at the Democrat’s supermajority in both houses of California’s legislature. Democrats still hold a supermajority, but just one over the required 27 seats in the senate.
Anything could happen to the remaining Democratic senators, two of whom are under investigation. Or Republicans could win a seat or two next year. The question is, can Vidak defend his seat outside of the warped reality of a special election?
The only other time this seat has gone Republican was in 1993 when Jim Costa lost in a special election to Phil Wyman; a name no one remembers because Wyman lost in a rematch the following year during a real election.
To say constituents weren’t sure who actually could vote in SD16 would be an understatement. Even Leticia Perez, the Democratic candidate, was given the wrong information when she filed her papers.
“People have been very confused.” said Rita Woodward, Tulare County Registrar of Voters. “While most of Lindsay is in the district, Strathmore is not. Plainville is in the district, but Porterville is not.”
Like all of California, SD16 has the feel of gerrymandering, but that is not the reason why Democrats lost. Vidak’s victory could be attributed to the fact that Republicans get off their ass to mail in ballots or go to the polls in special elections, and Democrats do not. Not every Hispanic is a Democrat or supports Perez. But who do you think would have won this election if every Hispanic in the district took the effort to vote?
Whether or not Perez decides to run again in 2014, this senate seat will be hard for the Republican Party to hold. Republican registration is only 28.6% and Democrats have been known on occasion to show up in a general election.
Both candidates beleaguered the issues on water, high-speed rail, and education. But let’s be real. The sheer importance of SD16 for both parties was not about issues. It was about control of the legislature and explains why money poured into this race. A total of about $5.4 million has been spent, which is beyond huge for a special election. Each candidate spent around $2.2 million, and $1 million was spent by outside groups.
As soon as Vidak is sworn in to office, he will have to restart his campaign for the November 2014 election. He will not be running in the current 16th district but the newly created 14th Senate District. This new district is slightly more Republican, but that may not be enough for a Republican victory.
My prediction for who will win a rematch? Neither. Perez is too weak of a candidate and the Democrat Party will run someone stronger. As a moderate Republican, Vidak would be put on the endangered species list if he were a fish. Maybe he can find common ground with the Delta Smelt but he won’t find victory in the new Senate District 14, because moderate is not going to win this solidly Democratic district.
“Now its time to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” says Vidak – at least for the next 17 months.