Local Election

Assembly District 26 matchup too close to call; other Valley races decided

Assembly District 26 candidates, from left, Devon Mathis, Ruben Macareno and Rudy Mendoza
Assembly District 26 candidates, from left, Devon Mathis, Ruben Macareno and Rudy Mendoza Special to The Bee

Election results in California Assembly District 26 show a neck-and-neck battle between two challengers vying to run against incumbent Devon Mathis in November, while updated numbers in other Assembly races show that voters clearly favored the incumbents.

The fields for three local Assembly seats were trimmed to two on June 7 as voters cast their ballots in the state primary.

In the 23rd District, the only two candidates will automatically move on. District 32 incumbent Rudy Salas is running unopposed.

District 26

Mathis, a military veteran from Visalia, faced off against Rudy Mendoza, a political staffer from Woodlake. The Republicans also battled each other two years ago, with Mathis surprising favorite Mendoza.

California uses an open primary system, meaning the top two vote-getters will move on to the general election regardless of party affiliation.

In the 2014 primary, Mendoza nearly doubled Mathis’ vote total at the polls, securing 40 percent to Mathis’ 20 percent. Mathis won the general election by about seven points.

In that election, the two ran against three Democrats, including Ruben Macareno of Visalia, who finished fourth with 8 percent of the vote, and two other Republicans. The three Democrats earned a combined 31 percent of the vote.

Some believed that Mathis might be eliminated on June 7, given that Mendoza did so well in the primary two years ago.

However, it is Macareno – the only Democrat in the field this year – who appears to have won the right to face Mathis.

The unofficial final results show Mathis leading with 44 percent. Macareno passed Mendoza after midnight Wednesday and was holding second place by nearly 600 votes.

Tulare County – which accounts for most of the voters in the district – still has 15,000 votes to count.

Inyo County has about 1,500 uncounted ballots.

The district, which includes most of Tulare County and all of Inyo County, is predominantly Republican.

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Mathis said he was confident going into the primary that he would make it to November. His comfortable lead was a little more surprising.

“It really shows the work I’ve done in Sacramento has shone through,” Mathis said. “The people of the 26th District know I have their backs, and last night showed that they have mine.”

Mathis believes he carries all of the momentum going into the general election.

Macareno, Mathis’ likely opponent, was not quite as confident going into the primary.

“Honestly, I think I had a decent chance (of making the runoff),” Macareno said Wednesday. “I had a good feeling all night despite being in third. I always believed it would be a race.”

Macareno believes the influx of Democrats choosing between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, who both recently made campaign stops in Fresno, helped his cause.

He plans to start fundraising for the general election. He spent about $11,000 in the primary – most of which came from a $10,000 donation from the state Democratic party.

The Republicans, however, raised and spent big for this primary.

According to state records, an independent committee working to get Mendoza elected spent $173,000 between Jan. 1 and May 21. Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican from Tulare and Mendoza’s boss, gave $100,000 of that from his own campaign fund. That fund also gave the committee an additional $200,000 between May 21 and June 3.

Mendoza’s campaign spent about $53,000 during that time period leading up to the primary.

Mathis’ campaign spent around $177,000 between Jan. 1 and May 21.

When asked on Wednesday if he was surprised by the results, Mendoza said he didn’t know how to answer.

“At the end of the day, the voters have spoken,” Mendoza said.

He also gave this statement: “If it took my running to ensure that the incumbent (Mathis) will never again consider voting for a tax increase, then I consider my campaign a success.”

District 31

Kingsburg Democrat Joaquin Arambula and Fresno Republican Clint Olivier fought a contentious battle during a special election in April, with Arambula securing a 14-point victory. The seat was vacated by Democrat Henry T. Perea.

On Wednesday, the margins from the June 7 primary closely mirrored the special election. Arambula led with 55 percent of the vote to Olivier’s 39 percent and Caruthers Democrat Ted Miller’s 6 percent, with all precincts partially reporting.

The 31st Assembly District covers much of western Fresno County, including the southern part of Fresno.

District 5

Incumbent Frank Bigelow, a Republican from O’Neals, came in first with 60 percent, with all precincts partially reporting. Bigelow, a rancher, longtime firefighter and former Madera County supervisor, was unopposed in 2014.

Democrat Robert Carabas, a retired painter, carpenter and businessman from Sonora, finished with 23 percent and will face Bigelow in November.

Marc Belden, who is registered as no-party preference and lives in Rail Road Flat in Calaveras County, finished fifth in the 2012 primary with 4 percent. He fared slightly better on June 7, with 8 percent.

The fourth candidate, Democrat Kai Ellsworth of Greenwood in El Dorado County, finished with 9 percent. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran who was wounded in Iraq in 2009 and is currently studying political science at Sierra College.

The massive district covers parts of nine counties in the Sierra Nevada foothills, including Madera and Mariposa counties.

District 23

Incumbent Jim Patterson and challenger Gwen Morris, both Fresno Republicans, will move on to the general election.

Patterson, Fresno’s former mayor, is vying for his third consecutive Assembly term. Morris, a retired teacher and community activist, is running without the support of her party because she says “sometimes professional politicians aren’t as effective” in public office.

Patterson held a large lead over Morris, 78 percent to 22 percent, with all precincts partially reporting.

The district covers eastern Fresno County as well as the northern part of Fresno.

District 32

Bakersfield Democrat Rudy Salas is running unopposed for re-election.