Two weeks ago, 21st Congressional District challenger Amanda Renteria sent out a news release touting the work done by her fellow Democrats in registering new voters.
She’s right. Numbers released Tuesday by the Secretary of State’s Office confirm it. In the 21st District, Democrats had a net gain of 5,839 registered voters since the June primary election, while Republicans had a net loss of 548 registered voters.
Overall, that means the Democratic voter-registration edge in the district — which covers all of Kings and parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties — has grown to more than 17-percentage-points.
But registration has never been the problem for Democrats. It’s been turnout.
If Renteria wants any hope of taking out the incumbent, Hanford Republican David Valadao, she’s going to have to get more Democrats to actually vote than they have in past elections.
The huge Democratic registration advantage is one of the major reasons political pundits consider the district competitive. On paper, Valadao shouldn’t hold the seat.
In 2010, however, he beat the odds in a state Assembly run that covers some of the same territory and was also dominated by Democrats. Two years ago, he moved to Congress and won the 21st District seat, even though Democrats had a 15-percentage-point registration edge. (He likely also was the beneficiary of some voters who “split” their ballots, because President Barack Obama won the district. It’s likely several Democrats voted for both Obama and Valadao, passing on Democrat John Hernandez, Valadao’s opponent.)
All this may play into the current ratings from respected national political prognosticators.
Three major organizations rate it competitive, but they all give the edge to Valadao. The nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report says the race "leans" toward Valadao. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report and “Sabato’s Crystal Ball,” a national look at races published by University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, both rate it a “likely” Valadao win.
For Democrats, the problem is obvious. They can register every eligible voter in the 21st District, but it only a fraction of them are actually going to cast a ballot, they’ll continue to lose elections in that district.
This year’s elections should shed an especially bright light on the state of the Democratic Party in the central San Joaquin Valley’s west side.
Much of Valadao’s congressional district overlaps with the 14th State Senate District, currently held by Hanford Republican Andy Vidak, who last year was elected to a slightly different seat — the 16th State Senate District — in a special election.
Vidak is now up for reelection in the 14th District, challenged by Fresno Democrat Luis Chavez.
Democrats in that district have a 20-percentage-point voter registration edge.
Taken together, the two seats should show whether the Democrats can actually get the voters they register to cast ballots.