No summer break for some Valley political candidates

Labor Day is the traditional start of the fall campaign season. Sure enough, the signals are everywhere, from campaign offices opening to phone banks being readied.

The current political world, however, isn't like it was 25 or 50 years ago, when summer was more of a time for low-key work like lining up endorsements and raising money -- but not actively campaigning.

Many central San Joaquin Valley candidates say they never stopped campaigning after advancing in the June primary. They walked precincts and did other campaign-related events such as coffee klatches in addition to raising money and seeking endorsements.

"We have never slowed down," said Cary Catalano, who is seeking to replace the termed-out Blong Xiong in the District 1 Fresno City Council seat. "I have never believed in the philosophy that after Labor Day is when things heat up."

Back in the day, most politicians or political hopefuls figured voters weren't paying attention in the summer heat of June, July and August. It was vacation time. The kids were out of school. The election was a long way off.

Catalano instead used the past three months to knock on doors across the entire district, which covers west-central Fresno and areas west of Highway 99. He started three days after the June 3 primary.

Two weeks ago he started airing radio ads.

His opponent, Esmeralda Soria, has worked over the summer as well. She, too, has been walking precincts and opened her campaign office a month ago.

That said, Soria took off more than just three days after the election.

"I wanted to be respectful, so I gave (voters) a little bit of a break," she said. "They got bombarded (by campaigning) so much" in the weeks headed up to the primary election.

Jeff Cummins, a Fresno State political science professor, said campaigning through the summer has been happening for a few decades now -- though there are still no indications the general public is paying attention at that early stage.

He said it is most noticeable at the presidential level, where hopefuls have stretched out the campaign season by testing the waters a few years before the election.

Cummins said some of it might be driven by competitive contests. The Soria-Catalano race is a perfect example, he said. Just 30 votes separated the two candidates in the June primary.

But the summer campaigning hasn't just been at the city council level. It's happening at the county level, and all the way to the 21st Congressional District clash between incumbent Hanford Republican David Valadao and his challenger, Sanger Democrat Amanda Renteria.

Last month, Renteria visited several small towns in the district, where she held public forums. She also made visits to clinics and schools.

Valadao, in the meantime, was home for the August congressional recess. His month was taken up by events considered official, though he also had a couple of fundraisers.

District 1 Fresno County supervisorial candidate Brian Pacheco said he only took five or six days off from the campaign over the summer to take his children to the State Fair in Sacramento.

His opponent, Xiong, who looks to move up to the board of supervisors from the Fresno City Council, said he took June off before starting to campaign in July.

"The story hasn't changed," he said. "The campaign hasn't stopped."

Yard signs and other campaign signs at busy intersections have also been popping up over the past month, including the return of Nosey the elephant. A decade ago, the ubiquitous Nosey signs were credited with helping win Measure Z, a one-tenth-of-a-cent sales-tax initiative for Chaffee Zoo. This year, the tax is up for renewal.

Make no mistake, however, Valley residents will both see and feel the difference this month.

"Labor Day is the traditional kick off, and we've definitely turned the button up these past couple of days," Pacheco said.

The campaign signs will increase exponentially. They'll show up in more and more yards.

In addition, television ads will start. They are expensive, and so there are only so many ads a candidate or ballot initiative can afford. Expect those to start in the coming week and run through the November election.

As the election gets closer -- especially after mail ballots go out Oct. 6 -- expect the campaign mail to ramp up.

In these ways, political experts said, nothing has changed. Even with the increasing work candidates seem to be doing during the summer months in recent elections, Labor Day is still the demarcation point for the intensive multi-media politicking.

"The public nature of it doesn't happen until now," Cummins said. "Just in terms of visibility we don't see it until after Labor Day."

Key election dates

Oct. 6: Vote-by-mail ballots and sample ballots mailed to voters.

Oct. 20: Last day to register to vote.

Oct. 28: Last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot by mail.

Nov. 4: General Election Day.