After five months and millions of dollars, it's time to find out who will replace Michael Rubio in the 16th state Senate District.
Rubio, a Bakersfield Democrat, resigned in mid-February, setting in motion a chain of events that culminates in Tuesday's election showdown between Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez and Hanford Republican Andy Vidak.
Elections officials in Kings, Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties say they're ready. At the same time, Perez and Vidak are busy doing all they can to energize supporters in the election's closing hours to make sure those people actually cast ballots.
It's a race that's being watched not just locally, but in Sacramento as well, because it could "erode the (Democrats') supermajority in the Senate," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a veteran political analyst at the University of Southern California. "That's the bottom line."
That's a big reason why so much money has poured into the race, which election experts said is high for a special election. The candidates themselves have raised around $4 million, and outside groups have spent well over $1 million in additional money in support of — or in opposition to — Vidak or Perez.
The election will likely come down to who does the better job of getting their supporters to cast ballots. Voters have already been casting ballots for the past month.
"It's all going to come down to turnout," Jeffe said. "Only the most committed voters know what's going on. How many committed voters are there in the middle of summer?"
So far, 16,964 ballots have been returned in Fresno County. That's about 12% of the 137,329 registered voters in Fresno County's portion of the district.
In Kings County, 12,693 ballots have been returned. In Tulare, 6,320, and in Kern, 13,825. Not surprisingly, Republican ballots have been returned in much greater numbers in Kings County, and the opposite is true in Kern.
Though large numbers of people are voting by mail ballot, Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth is still running 87 polling locations Tuesday. There are 167 Fresno County voting precincts, she said. Of that, 39 are only vote-by-mail. The other 128 precincts are split among the 87 polling sites.
Perez spent her final day of campaigning Monday doing media interviews, then driving to Fresno where she spoke to the Democratic Women's Club, and then finished up her day on Hmong television and walking a precinct.
Tuesday, she'll spend the morning in Bakersfield calling voters and then head to Fresno to talk to volunteers and call more voters before heading back to Kern County to watch election returns.
Vidak spent Monday walking two precincts in Hanford, calling voters, and doing radio and television interviews in both Fresno and Bakersfield. On Tuesday, he plans to do more of the same.
It is unlikely the result will be known Tuesday night, election officials said.
In the May primary — which featured Perez, Vidak and three other candidates — early indications of a Vidak win were turned upside down later in the week.
Vidak jumped to an early lead on election night and at one point had almost 52% of the vote to Perez's 41.7%. Vidak was cautious about declaring victory, but Perez conceded, thinking the count for Vidak would remain above 50%.
If that had happened, Vidak would have won the election outright. But late absentee and provisional ballots went strongly for Perez, and fewer came in for Vidak.
He still won the election, with 49.8% of the vote, but he fell below 50%, which forced today's runoff. Perez won second place — and the second spot in the runoff — with 43.9% of the vote.
State Senate District 16: Runoff between Leticia Perez, D-Bakersfield, and Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, to replace Michael Rubio, who resigned the seat in February. Perez and Vidak were the top vote-getters in a five-person field in May.
Election Day: Tuesday, July 23. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mail-in balloting started June 24.
2221 Kern St., Fresno
Details: Web or (559) 600-VOTE (8683)
5951 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia
Details: Web or (559) 624-7300.
1400 W. Lacey Blvd., Hanford
Details: Web or (559) 582-3211, ext. 4401.
City of residence: Bakersfield
Occupation: Kern County supervisor
Education: Bachelor's degree in law and society, University of California at Santa Barbara; law degree, Valparaiso University
Family: Married, 1 child
Party preference: Democrat
Facebook: Leticia Perez for Senate
City of residence: Hanford
Occupation: Farmer/small business owner
Education: Bachelor's in animal business, Texas Tech University
Party preference: Republican
Facebook: Andy Vidak
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6320, firstname.lastname@example.org or @johnellis24 on Twitter.