On the eve of Tuesday’s special election, the three candidates for Fresno County’s Board of Supervisors are bracing for a final weekend push in a contest in which turnout will be key.
Steve Brandau, Nasreen Johnson and Steve Hosey have spent the last few months campaigning on a truncated timetable to fill the District 2 seat vacated by Andreas Borgeas, who was elected to the California Senate in November.
Any candidate who receives more than 50 percent of the vote will win election outright. If none do, a runoff will be held for the top two vote-earners on June 4.
Brandau, a Fresno city councilman and small business owner, brings experience in local governance and wide backing from a variety of key groups, including law enforcement, several of his fellow council members and virtually all Republican-aligned political entities.
Johnson, the director of marketing and communications for the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, has earned wide Democratic support, as well as the backing of labor and women’s groups. She recently ran unsuccessfully for the Fresno Unified School District Board of Trustees.
Hosey, a developer and former Major League Baseball player, has attempted to provide a political middle ground while preaching collaboration during his first foray into politics.
Speaking on Wednesday, both Brandau and Johnson said they had a busy week ahead of them. Each had a final fundraiser to host, and each planned to canvas throughout the weekend before phone banking with volunteers on Monday and Tuesday. Turnout tends to be low in special elections, especially for district-specific races such as this one.
Attempts to reach Hosey for comment were not successful.
Brandau, who first won election to the City Council in 2012, called his last 10 weeks “off-the-hook crazy.”
“We’re trying to run a campaign that normally takes 18 months in about two-and-a-half,” he said. “And we’re doing a lot of it. It just needed a new level of crazy.”
Brandau said he’s focused on voter outreach, while his campaign team has prepared the mailers and commercials peppering the residents of north Fresno over these last few weeks.
The weeks have been particularly busy, Brandau said, as he took over the duties of council president this year and also serves on a San Joaquin River Conservancy Board that has been locked in deep discussion over river access possibilities.
Johnson said she’s been humbled by the outpouring of support for her shortened campaign.
“I’m enthusiastic and positive about our chances on Tuesday,” Johnson said. “I’m overwhelmed by the community support. It’s humbling. I keep using that word, but that’s really what I feel.”
The support came early, Johnson said, as her January kickoff party pulled in more than three times as many guests as she first expected.
Johnson, the lone woman in the race for a board currently composed of four men, has received considerable support from women’s political groups in the form of donations and volunteer efforts.
“People are excited to support a qualified candidate who shares their values,” Johnson said. “Me being a woman may be important to some folks, and for some it isn’t important at all.”
She continued: “One woman told me it’s important that we have a representative board, but I’m not choosing you because you’re a woman. I’m choosing you because you are qualified.”
Although the race is nonpartisan, the candidates cut clear political paths.
Brandau is an outspoken conservative Republican who formerly led the Central Valley Tea Party. Johnson is a Democrat with the clear backing of local Democratic and progressive groups. Hosey, a first-time candidate who is registered as no party preference, has sought to distance himself from the two political poles with his candidacy.
The latest party registration statistics favor Brandau. Republicans outnumber Democrats in District 2 by about 8,000 registered voters as of Feb. 10, or around 40 percent of the total electorate to 33 percent. No party preference voters make up about 22 percent of the district.
As of Feb. 16, Brandau and Johnson were neck and neck in annual campaign fundraising.
Johnson raised more than $104,000 and spent about $78,500 of it. She had about $24,000 left over for a final push.
Brandau pulled in just over $103,000 and spent almost $136,000. He had a slight head start from his remaining council campaign funds and several large donations from prominent local developers last year, which allowed him to keep more than $64,000 for the weeks leading up to the election.
Hosey raised about $25,000 and spent $15,000, leaving him with around $10,000.
Brandau is probably the favorite to finish first. In addition to his modest financial and political registration advantages, he’s also already won election twice in a city district that shares much of the same territory with Fresno County’s District 2.
“Our focus has been to try and win next week – to earn that 50 percent plus one (vote),” Brandau said.
He added the prospect of an outright victory “becomes tricky” due to the electorate being split among three candidates.
“It’s not a guarantee,” Brandau said. “There might be a runoff. But we’re working as if we can win.”
Clovis City Council
Also Tuesday, residents of Clovis will select three City Council members from a field of four candidates – each of whom come from a law enforcement background.
Three incumbents are running for re-election: Bob Whalen, a Fresno County assistant district attorney; Drew Bessinger, Atwater interim police chief; and Jose Flores, State Center Community College District police chief.
Maeketah Rivera, a community service officer for the Fresno Police Department, is the challenger.
The top three finishers will win election. There will be no runoff.
How to vote
Fresno County supervisor: Special election open only to registered voters in District 2 (mostly northwest and northeast Fresno)
Clovis City Council: Regular general election open to all registered voters in city
Polls open: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 5
Early voting: Elections office: 2221 Kern Street, Fresno