In one of the most hotly contested and closely watched state legislative races in California, incumbent Hanford Republican Andy Vidak held an early 10-percentage-point lead Tuesday night over Fresno Democrat Luis Chavez in the 14th state Senate District.
Vidak had 55.4% of the vote to Chavez’s 44.6% with 82% of precincts reporting.
But the early returns didn’t discourage Chavez.
“We’re very encouraged by the numbers,” he said. “We were up initially, but then Kings (County) came in and now we’re down. But it’s a big district. We made an effort to get to every single community out there, and I feel very good about the product of the work that we did, and now we leave it in the voters’ hands.”
Indeed, the early difference for Vidak was his home county of Kings, where he was winning more than 70% of the vote. Vidak was also winning in Tulare County. Chavez had sizable leads in both Kern and Fresno counties, but not enough to offset Vidak’s huge leads in the other two counties.
Vidak came late to a post-election party with a fellow Hanford Republican, Rep. David Valadao.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Vidak said. “Common sense has no party lines. I think we’ve got a great message that’s all about jobs, affordable reliable water and affordable reliable energy.”
This race is important because Republicans are trying to keep rival Democrats from a two-thirds supermajority in the state Senate. To do that, Vidak has to hold on to his seat, and the GOP has to win another in Orange County. For that reason, both parties poured millions into the Vidak-Chavez race.
It’s a total that now stands at more than $2 million for Vidak and $2.6 million for Chavez. In addition, independent groups poured in an additional $2.4 million. In total, around $7 million was spent in the hotly contested 14th District.
Democrats consider the seat to be theirs. They hold an almost 20-percentage-point registration edge over Republicans, and until Vidak won the seat in a special election last year, they had held the territory the seat covers for decades, with one notable short stint in the mid-1990s.
Chavez, a 35-year-old Fresno Democrat, is a Fresno Unified school board trustee who is also chief of staff for Fresno City Council Member Sal Quintero.
Vidak, a 48-year-old Hanford cherry farmer, first burst on to the Valley political scene when he almost upset Fresno Democrat Jim Costa in a congressional run. He came back last year to win the state Senate seat after Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio unexpectedly resigned.
Other state Senate races
• In early 12th District returns, incumbent Republican Anthony Cannella had 62.3% to Democratic challenger Shawn Bagley’s 37.7% with 97% of precincts reporting. Besides Vidak’s 14th District, there were two other state Senate districts that were considered competitive — primarily because of voter registration. One of those was the 12th District. But political experts said this year, it would be no contest. Cannella, they said, had done all the right things in securing a competitive district; Bagley, a Salinas Democrat, was never able to get political traction.
• Incumbent Tom Berryhill appeared on his way to an easy reelection in the 8th District, a sprawling expanse that includes all or parts of 11 counties, including Clovis and around 70% of the city of Fresno in Fresno County. With 98% precincts reporting, Berryhill, of Twain Harte, had 66.8% of the vote and Fresno Democrat Paulina Miranda had 33.2%.
• Bakersfield Republican Jean Fuller looked headed for reelection in the 16th state Senate District, which includes a large chunk of Tulare County. With 59% of precincts reporting, Fuller had 72.7% of the vote to 27.3% for Bakersfield Democrat Ruth Muser-Lopez.
• Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea looked well on his way to winning a third term in the 31st Assembly District over Walter Villarreal, an under-funded challenger who won the right to face Perea by running as a write-in candidate in the June primary. He is not registered with any political party. With 59% of precincts reporting, Perea had 66.3% of the vote to Villarreal’s 33.7%.
• With 86% of precincts reporting, O’Neals Republican Frank Bigelow, seeking his second term in the 5th District, had 75.2% of the vote and looked well on his way to winning over Libertarian Party challenger Patrick Hogan, who had 24.8% of the vote.
• With 37.5% precincts reporting in the 32nd District, incumbent Bakersfield Democrat Rudy Salas had 54.1% of the vote to 45.9% for challenger Pedro Rios, a Delano Republican, in what was expected to be a tough race. This is a rematch of the 2012 race.
• Fresno Republican Jim Patterson was unopposed in the 23rd Assembly District. He will serve a second term.