Political Fix (15 May, 2014)

Nate Silver is notorious for his uncanny accuracy in predicting presidential elections. Between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Mr. Silver correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. But local elections can be a bit trickier. Mr. Silver had the advantage of many national polls from which to choose and the luxury of a larger margin of error. With 130 million voters during a presidential election, versus just 40,000 for Tulare County Sheriff and District Attorney, and only around 8,000 for the supervisors’ race, making accurate predictions might be just beyond the grasp of even Visalia Times-Delta’s political analyst.

Other factors that frustrate a prognosticator are low voter turnout, the “jungle primary,” and early voting. Low voter turnout compounds the challenge by making it harder to dilute the crazies. But mail-in ballots makes it impossible for the candidates to campaign. Sixty percent of registered voters received their ballot May 5th, and many have already voted. Early voting can lead to unlikely victories, such as when Charles Ulmschneider won a seat on the Visalia Unified School District Board after the Visalia Times-Delta revealed he actually worked and lived in Stockton.

In 2012, California had its first test run of the open primary. This is our second stab at it, and many politicians are hoping the new system goes away. In an open primary the two top vote-getting candidates proceed to the November general election, regardless of their party affiliation. This was supposed to remedy the gridlock in Sacramento, but resulted in some head-scratching primary results.

Even so, this should not be a difficult election to call. The June primary is not about who is going to come in first, but who is going to come in second. Predicting that is a little more complicated. Usually, no one remembers who comes in second–unless you are my dad, who is still pissed that Richard Nixon came in second to Jack Kennedy in 1960. But after the June primary, we are all going to be inundated with Mr. or Ms. Second Place trying unsuccessfully to knock-off the favorite in November. California is not in a “kick the bums out” mood, and neither is Tulare County–so incumbents should easily keep their seats.

Not every race merits an analysis or prediction. Some statewide races have not generated sufficient interest or have viable candidates besides the incumbent. The Porterville City Council has nine candidates that are not well-known outside of their town. Other races have no challenger–such as Steve Worthley’s in Supervisorial District 4, and Jean Fuller’s in State Senate District 16.

Tulare County District Attorney

Candidates: Appointed District Attorney Tim Ward and former Assistant District Attorney Ralph Kaelble. This race will be determined in June.

This is the hottest race in Tulare County. Coincidently, it’s also the hottest race in Fresno County, where two similarly aged and experienced women are in a hot cat fight to be the victor. The contenders in Fresno are incumbent Elizabeth Egan and challenger Lisa Smittcamp.

In Tulare County, Mr. Kaelble has put up the best fight of a challenger this election. He kept the media momentum on his side and received some key endorsements. Mr. Kaelble made a strong point when he said that it’s risky for stakeholders to endorse the challenger and it’s rare for the police not to endorse the sitting District Attorney. While Mr. Ward has a long list of endorsements, Mr. Kaelble has the support of the “boots on the ground” such as several police departments and law enforcement associations.

Mr. Ward says that the difference between them is night and day, but it’s not. This is a nonpartisan office but both are registered Republicans. They are both lawyers, they paid for their own educations, worked their way up the ranks, raised a similar amount of campaign cash and have roughly the same number of annoying campaign signs–well, Mr. Kaelble beats Mr. Ward on the number of signs.

Despite everything Mr. Kaelble has going for him, Mr. Ward is the establishment’s candidate. Mr. Ward has endorsed incumbents, or highly favored candidates like Rudy Mendoza, and has received their money and their endorsements in return. Besides this, Mr. Ward is the sitting DA and has displayed superior speaking skills at important events filled with the type of people who take the time to cast a ballot.

Prediction: Tim Ward 1st; Ralph Kaelble 2nd by 500 votes.

Tulare County Sheriff

Candidates: Acting Sheriff Mike Boudreaux and retired Undersheriff Dave Whaley. This race will be determined in June.

This race would be just as tight as the Tulare County District Attorney’s if not for the money, and a few other things. Mr. Boudreaux has raised an amazing $309,375 to Mr. Whaley’s $91,616, and money talks–especially in an election. But Mr. Boudreaux has had to overcome his critics in the media. He received bad press about an association embezzlement scandal and the possible illegality of his political campaign’s holding a raffle. But when the sitting District Attorney has endorsed you, legal cases against you tend to get dropped.

Mr. Whaley’s main detraction is his relevancy. What has he been doing in the last five years, and can he catch up to 2014? To make matters worse, just because Tulare County is one of the top agricultural producers in the country, doesn’t mean our sheriff has to wear a ten-gallon hat.

But this area can be backwards. Not many counties outside the Central Valley, except maybe Modoc, would tolerate its sheriff holding a gun raffle. If our sheriff is going to raffle off guns, then our District Attorney should raffle off some medical marijuana. The winners would just need to show up with their medical marijuana card to pick up their prize. Because we need more drugs on the street just as much as we need more guns.

Prediction: Mike Boudreaux over Dave Whaley by a landslide.

Governor

Candidates: There are fifteen candidates listed on the June ballot. The top two will proceed to the November general election. The only three serious contenders are Democratic Governor Jerry Brown; Republicans State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly and Neel Kashkari.

This race breaks the rule that money talks in politics. Mr. Kashkari has raised nearly $1 million to Mr. Donnelly’s thirty-five cents. Yet Mr. Kashkari is losing to his fellow Republican by double digits in the polls. This begs the question: if Mr. Donnelly is creating so much excitement and support, why is he broke? The jungle primary isn’t helping. In a traditional primary, Mr. Kashkari would get the vote of any Republican to the left of the Tea Party. In the “Top Two” he has to compete for the moderate vote that will now go to Gov. Brown.

Let’s recap Mr. Donnelly’s performance, shall we? He recently accused Mr. Kashkari of supporting Sharia Law in a thinly veiled racist nod to Mr. Kashkari’s Middle Eastern-sounding name and skin tone. Mr. Donnelly cast the lone Assembly vote against a bill that would bar the sale of the Confederate flag on state property. He has compared President Obama’s gun policies to Adolf Hitler’s.

He is running a guerilla campaign–which is code for “no money.” He is on probation for trying to board an airplane with a loaded handgun. He rides around the state in a borrowed RV called “Liberty Express” and is a favorite of the tin foil hat guild whose fairly amusing nickname for the current governor is “Jerry Clown.”

There is only one thing the Tea Party hates more than a Democrat, and that is a moderate Republican–especially one who voted for Mr. Obama. Mr. Kashkari’s moderation blurs the conservative Republicans’ ability to see that he has the budgetary chops to run a complicated state budget and is politically moderate enough on social views to win a statewide office.

The problem is, other influential moderate Republicans just recently grew a pair and started to endorse Mr. Kashkari. But they are a day late and a dollar short as the electorate has already started mailing in their ballots. While the Republican establishment sat with their collective thumbs up their backsides, Mr. Donnelly went unchecked in destroying the party. Thus, Mr. Kashkari doesn’t have a chance and can’t even poll above a registered sex offender.

Prediction: Todd Akin

Congressional District 22

Candidates: Republican Incumbent Devin Nunes, “Republican” John Catano; Democrat Suzanna “Sam” Aguilera-Marrero. The top two vote-getters will proceed to the November general election.

Will Congressional District 22 send two Republicans to the general election because this is a conservative area? No. Mr. Catano might have made a serious miscalculation by changing his affiliation last year from Democratic to Republican.

In 2012, two Republicans did go on to the general election because of the “Top Two” style primary, but that’s because they were two very strong candidates. While Rep. Nunes is going to suck up all the Republican votes, Ms. Aguilera-Marrero will get the rest. She won’t get that many, but all one has to do is come in second.

Prediction: Devin Nunes 1st; Suzanna Aguilera-Marrero 2nd by at least 30 points.

Congressional District 21

Candidates: Republican Incumbent David Valadao; Democrats Amanda Renteria and John Hernandez.

Of the six congressional districts labeled “competitive” in California, District 22 is the only one considered by the political pundits as a real toss-up. But, two years ago, with a 14-point Democratic voter advantage and a 72% Hispanic ethnic make-up, Rep. Valadao trounced John Hernandez–in a presidential election year, no less. If Democrats can’t take this seat during a presidential election, it’s not happening on an off-year.

Both Ms. Renteria and Rep. Valadao have pretty much ignored Mr. Hernandez this election season. In 2012, Mr. Hernandez was the surprise spoiler in the congressional primary, squeaking past Democratic favorite Xiong Blong. But Ms. Renteria has proven a stronger candidate and better fundraiser than Mr. Blong.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose sole purpose is to bump off Republicans, has put Ms. Renteria on their “Red to Blue” list, which will translate into a lot of campaign cash. Ms. Renteria has received just as much attention from the Republican Party, who sees her as a real threat.

Rep. Valadao has tried to label her as an “outsider” and “Washington’s pick for this congressional seat.” But as a native of Woodlake, and daughter of immigrant farm workers, the only people listening to that rhetoric are hardcore conservatives who weren’t going to vote for her anyway.

Prediction: David Valadao 1st; Amanda Renteria 2nd.

State Assembly District 26

Candidates: Republicans Rudy Mendoza, Esther Barajas, Devon Mathis, and Teresa Andres; Democrats Carlton Jones, Derek Thomas, and Ruben Macareno. The two top vote-getters advance to the November general election.

With no incumbent running, and an open primary, this race has become the mother of all free-for-alls. Out of 80 races for the California Assembly, only three have more candidates than this district. The open primary means that two candidates from the same party could be sent to the general election. Two Republicans, who filed their preliminary paperwork last summer, stand out from the rest–Mr. Mendoza and Ms. Barajas.

Mr. Mendoza has the most money, experience, endorsements and name recognition to win in November. So the question isn’t who is going to win the primary, but who is going to lose to Mr. Mendoza in November. Ms. Barajas, who has only managed to raise a paltry $600, courted the Central Valley Tea Party for their endorsement. “I have five or six very close friends in the Tea Party that support me,” said Ms. Barajas, “but they weren’t prepared to endorse anyone.” The American Independent Party has endorsed Ms. Barajas.

Though Ms. Barajas seemed like the only viable threat to Mr. Mendoza last year, this year her campaign has lost momentum. The scuttlebutt is that Republican Ms. Andres was encouraged to file papers to dilute the Republican women’s vote and derail Ms. Barajas’ campaign. Conspiracy theories aside, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Ms. Andres changed her affiliation from Democratic to Republican soon before declaring her candidacy. She also hasn’t filed any financial papers with the Secretary of State. With no money, and fundamentally a Democrat, she is not “in to win it.” So why did she file?

Most Republicans are going to cast their vote for the front runner, Mr. Mendoza, making second place fall to a Democrat. Of the three Democrats running for assembly, none of whom have raised any money, Mr. Jones is the only one to have held elected office. But he has gotten some negative press. In addition, California Democrats are not going to vote for anti-choice, anti-marriage rights candidates, which both Mr. Jones and Mr. Thomas are. Mr. Macareno is a meat-and-potatoes liberal and has racked up an impressive line of endorsements. He also gets exposure as the Chairman of the Tulare County Democratic Party.

Prediction: Rudy Mendoza 1st; Ruben Macareno 2nd by at least 25 points.

Tulare County Supervisor, District 5

Candidates: Incumbent Mike Ennis, Virginia Gurrola, Felipe Martinez, and Greg Shelton. If no one receives 50% plus one, the top two vote-getters go on to the November general election.

Steve Worthley in District 4 has no challenger, which usually means that his constituents are pretty satisfied with his performance. On the other hand, Mr. Ennis has three challengers who do not think he is doing a very good job.

Most of our readers do not live, or vote, in District 5–but the winner of this race will make decisions that affect us all. Mr. Ennis’ three challengers have served, or are currently serving, on the Porterville City Council. Ms. Gurrola and Mr. Martinez most likely will split the Latino vote, while and conservative Mr. Shelton looks like he might prevent Mr. Ennis from winning outright in June with 50% plus one. But unlike Mr. Ennis, Mr. Shelton hasn’t raised any money. No money, no win.

The two main criticisms against Mr. Ennis are that he doesn’t always respond to his constituents, which is true, and that he pays more attention to the unincorporated communities than to Porterville, which is also true.

But who is going to stand up for communities like Tera Bella or Ducor and make sure they have parks and healthcare clinics? Porterville? No. Mr. Ennis stands up for those communities and takes pains to represent them as much as he represents Porterville. In general, things are going well in Tulare County and there are no hot-button issues that could derail Mr. Ennis campaign.

With four viable candidates, none is winning 50% percent plus one of the vote–so District 5 will have a run-off in November.

Prediction: Mike Ennis 1st; Greg Shelton 2nd.

State Controller

Candidates: There are six candidates running for Controller but only three are viable. Republican Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearingen; Democrats State Assembly Speaker John Perez and Board of Equalization Member Betty Yee. The top two vote-getters will proceed to the November general election.

For being one of the more boring offices, this race certainly has attracted its share of characters. The Controller is the chief fiscal officer of California, which is the ninth-largest economy in the world. So it was amusing when the former State Senator Dean Florez was the frontrunner last year for “top bookkeeper” before he was slapped with California’s largest fine ever for misusing campaign funds.

Then Fresno Mayor Swearingen burst onto the scene three days before the filing deadline. Mayor Swearingen is now coming in first in the polls in front of two well-known Democrats, State Assembly Speaker Perez and Board of Equalization Member Yee. She has also received the endorsement of the largest daily in California, the Los Angeles Times, as well as those of the Sacramento Bee and the Bakersfield Californian.

Mayor Swearingen has done this with little money and no name recognition outside of the Central Valley. Mr. Perez trails in the polls behind both women but has raised $2.4 million to Ms. Yee’s $752,000 and to Mayor Swearingen’s approximately $250,000.
People who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time are criticizing the Fresno Mayor for throwing her hat in the ring while also running the city. Conservatives, whose orbit is a bit closer to earth, are thrilled that a well-spoken and telegenic conservative has stepped up to the plate, finally.

The two strong Democratic candidates will split the liberal vote, and Mayor Swearengin will receive all the conservative votes. This may be the only race where the person who wins the primary will then lose in the general election. California is not going to elect a San Joaquin Valley Republican to any statewide office, no matter how tightly she embraces President Obama.

Prediction: Ashley Swearengin 1st; John Perez 2nd.

State Senate District 14

Candidates: Republican State Senator Andy Vidak; Democrat Fresno Unified School Board Trustee Luis Chavez.

About one third of Tulare County residents vote in this race, but because of redistricting it’s confusing where that third lives. Don’t count on Sen. Vidak or Board of Trustees Member Chavez clearing up the issue. Besides other problems with their websites, neither one of them even mentions District 14. Welcome to amateur hour.

Because there are only two candidates, both will advance to the general election. But this should be one of the hottest races after the primary. Both Sen. Vidak and Mr. Chavez have raised roughly the same amount of money, have about the same amount of experience and have the same lousy website. They have been in their respective offices about two years.

Mr. Chavez has been on the Fresno Unified School District board since 2012, while Sen. Vidak has been a State Senator since 2013. Mr. Chavez is looking at a 14-point Democratic registration advantage, and 71% of the registered voters are Hispanic. But Sen. Vidak has the advantage of being the incumbent in a low-voter turnout election, and the public has so far been pleased with his performance.

Prediction: Andy Vidak 1st; Luis Chavez 2nd.

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