Twenty years ago, Fresno Democrat Jim Costa lost to Hanford Republican Phil Wyman in a special election to fill the 16th state Senate seat. The following year, Costa came back to win the seat.
After Hanford Republican Andy Vidak posted a convincing victory Tuesday over Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez in a 16th state Senate special election, Democrats were hoping history can repeat itself -- and Republicans were calculating how to solidify Vidak's future.
Many pundits -- and even some Republican political operatives -- thought winning Tuesday would be the easy part, and holding on to the seat next year would be the harder task.
After all, Democrats will have a large voter-registration edge, it will be a general election with Gov. Jerry Brown seeking a second term, and the seat has long been perceived to be safely Democratic.
But in the wake of Tuesday's win, there is now a feeling that Vidak has a good chance of retaining the seat.
"He's in much better shape to get reelected," said Tony Quinn, a longtime political analyst and former Republican legislative aide.
Vidak ran Tuesday in the 16th District as it was between 2001 and 2011, but will stand for re-election in the newly drawn 14th Senate District.
Quinn said that district is five percentage points better for Republicans. It gets to that point by taking out some of urban Fresno, home to a lot of Democrats, and adding more of rural Tulare County, a strongly Republican area that also is near Vidak's home turf.
Michael Der Manouel Jr., chairman of the Fresno County Lincoln Club and a Republican activist, said the Valley's Republican congressional delegation -- Bakersfield's Kevin McCarthy, Hanford's David Valadao and Tulare's Devin Nunes -- must band together to help Vidak.
"If you look at the (registration) numbers, those aren't supposed to be our seats," Der Manouel said of both Vidak's Senate seat and Valadao's congressional seat. "You've got to make them our seats."
Job One, Der Manouel said, is putting together a support network that benefits all four Republicans.
First, however, Vidak must go to Sacramento, where he will join a Senate minority -- Democrats hold 28 seats in the 40-member body.
Allan Hoffenblum, a longtime Republican strategist and author of the California Target Book, which tracks the state's elections, had some advice for Vidak: "Don't be partisan."
He noted that Valley Democrats Dean Florez, Nicole Parra and Michael Rubio (whose resignation in February left the 16th Senate seat up for grabs) were all perceived to be moderates, which served them well in their districts.
Vidak, who still was enjoying his win Wednesday, said he had yet to think much about how he'd go about his work over the next 18 months.
"A smile and a handshake, that's where we have to start," he said.
Vidak said he talked on the phone Wednesday with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the top Democrat. He said the conversation was good.
"He congratulated me," Vidak said. "He said we ran a good campaign."
Vidak said he doesn't know when he'll be sworn in -- the Secretary of State's office has until May 31 to certify the election. He said he'll go to Sacramento with an open mind and will not be "judging anybody." But he still expects that he'll find a mixed bag when it comes to working with Democrats.
And, noting that he must run for re-election in a mere 17 months, he said some of those Senate Democrats are "already plotting my demise."
The big question is which Democrat will step up to oppose Vidak.
Perez had said before the election that if she lost, she would seek a rematch with Vidak next year. On Wednesday, she backed off that somewhat, saying she will "have to assess" taking on Vidak a second time.
But, Perez added, she is "not ruling it out."
Vidak had almost 52% of the vote to Perez's 41.7% on Tuesday. He won despite a voter-registration deficit of more than 22 percentage points and being outspent by around $300,000 -- not counting money from independent organizations.
There are still around 6,500 absentee and provisional ballots left to count in the district, which covers all of Kings County and parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties.
But Perez -- or the three other candidates who ran -- would have to win slightly more than two-thirds of the outstanding ballots to push Vidak below the 50% threshold, which would force a July 23 runoff.
Even Perez acknowledged that was impossible, conceding the race to Vidak.
"I want to congratulate Andy Vidak on winning this hard-fought race," she said in a written statement.
STATE SENATE: DISTRICT 16
481 of 481 precincts (x=winner)
x-Andy Vidak, GOP
Leticia Perez, Dem
Francisco Ramirez, Dem
Paulina Miranda, Dem
Mohammad Arif, PFP
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