Valley, state candidates make last push before Tuesday's election

The Fresno BeeMay 31, 2014 

Elections office workers Raj Sungu and Stacey Warrick check in boxes of mail-in ballots at the Fresno County Clerk's Office in downtown Fresno, Saturday, May 31, 2014.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

It's the final weekend of the primary election season, and candidates across the political spectrum are making last pitches to voters, and pushing their most ardent supporters to actually cast ballots. In a low-turnout election, every vote is crucial.

There's no slowing down for candidates — at least until the polls close at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. They're still knocking on doors, calling voters, sending out final mail pieces.

With turnout possibly at historic lows statewide, these final days could be the most important, political experts said.

"You've got to identify your supporters and get them to polls or to turn in their absentee ballots," said Fresno State political science professor Tom Holyoke. "Those are the people who are going to win. It comes down to organization, organization, organization."

District 1 Fresno City Council hopeful Esmeralda Soria and campaign supporters have walked the district several times and identified many potential supporters, said political consultant Minnie Santillan.

Now the campaign will use that information and follow it up with four days of door knocking and talking to voters. There will be "robo calls," which are automated phone calls, as well as letters reminding those identified as Soria supporters to vote and giving them polling information.

They'll even drive voters to the polls.

And volunteers will work phone banks, calling supporters to remind them to vote.

The experts said that kind of detail could be the difference between moving on to November and being out of contention.

Already, almost a quarter of the absentee ballots issued by Fresno County have been returned, Clerk Brandi Orth said. But that represents just 11.2% of the county's 412,181 registered voters.

In Tulare County, 12.5% of voters have already cast ballots. In Kings County, it is 15.3% and in Madera County, 17.5%.

Very few actual winners will be decided on Tuesday, but many will be fighting to make the November runoff.

At the city and county level, the heated Fresno County district attorney race between incumbent Elizabeth Egan and challenger Lisa Sondergaard Smittcamp will be decided because there are only two candidates.

If there are multiple candidates in city and county races, someone will have to win more than 50% of the vote to end the contest. If that doesn't happen, the top two finishers will move on to a November showdown.

At the state and federal levels, the top two finishers will move to November, regardless of political party. If there are only two candidates, both automatically move on, making Tuesday's vote nothing more than a free poll.

Both of Fresno County's Assembly members — Republican Jim Patterson and Democrat Henry T. Perea — are unchallenged. Patterson is the only Republican Assembly member in the state without a challenger. Frank Bigelow, a Republican whose 5th District includes Madera County, faces write-in candidate Patrick Hogan, a Libertarian from Coarsegold.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin — a Republican who is running for state controller — is one of those candidates hoping to finish first or second in Tuesday's primary.

There are six candidates seeking to replace Controller John Chiang, who is termed out of office, but only three are considered viable.

Besides Swearengin, they are Assembly Speaker Emeritus John Pérez and state Board of Equalization member Betty Yee. Both are Democrats.

Swearengin's campaign consultant, Tim Clark, said she will be around town all weekend, mainly calling donors to thank them for contributing or following up with a phone call to those who have pledged money.

"It really is all about putting fuel in the tank in this kind of race," Clark said.

If enough money comes in, Swearengin may do an automated robo call focused on the Valley from Bakersfield to Modesto. It would feature the support of the National Tax Limitation Committee.

A key to Swearengin's election strategy is winning big in the Valley, but she's also targeted other parts of the state that have competitive races that could drive up turnout.

One such area, Clark said, is San Diego, where Swearengin has been running radio ads. Another is Sacramento. The Bay Area, Clark said, lacks competitive races to entice voters to the polls, so no money or effort is being expended there.

Sacramento consultant Dave Gilliard, who is running Egan's campaign, as well as District 1 Fresno County Supervisor hopeful Brian Pacheco, said both candidates and their supporters will spend the weekend "calling high-propensity voters."

Another District 1 supervisor candidate, Gary Yep, will be walking precincts, he said. He'll only take a lunch break to watch his daughter's softball game.

Consultant Tim Orman, who is working for Smittcamp and District 4 Fresno County supervisor candidate Buddy Mendes, said the weekend focus is making sure supporters of his candidates actually vote.

Smittcamp benefits from having a budget to pay people to walk precincts and knock on doors. Mendes has followed suit, hiring some high schoolers to do the same, Orman said.

In the meantime, Orman's third candidate, Rep. David Valadao, isn't even campaigning.

The Hanford Republican is up for re-election, but is almost certain to finish first in a three-way race that also features Democrats Amanda Renteria and John Hernandez.

In that race, the top two move on to November, regardless of political party, but even Democrats know that Tuesday's election is Renteria and Hernandez battling for second. The loser is out. The winner will face off against Valadao.

"He's not even gearing up until after the primary," Orman said. "His focus will be on whoever his opponent is going forward, whether it be John Hernandez or Amanda Renteria."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6320, jellis@fresnobee.com or @johnellis24 on Twitter.

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