Political Notebook

Local Democrats staying neutral, for now, in U.S. Senate battle to replace Boxer

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris

From the viewpoint of a typical central San Joaquin Valley Democrat, U.S. Senate hopeful Loretta Sanchez would appear to have a lot of upside.

As a member of Congress, the Orange County Democrat is part of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition. She’s Hispanic, as are many Valley Democrats. Her only major Democratic Party opponent to date, Attorney General Kamala Harris, is perceived in these parts — fair or not — as a Bay Area liberal.

On paper, it looks like a perfect combination for Sanchez to win Valley votes.

So far, not many are jumping on the bandwagon.

Not that Harris is tearing it up, either.

“The proof to me is in the pudding, and that is which one of them is going to do something for the Central Valley,” former Assembly Member Sarah Reyes of Fresno says. “Which one of them is not going to talk from a distance on what they are going to do for the Valley, but come in here and actually talk to real people?”

So, when Harris comes to Clovis to hold a closed-door meeting with law enforcement officials, and then hand out awards to several officers, as she did this week, that doesn’t count, Reyes says.

Several, Republicans and Democrats, have said they will seek to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer. More could be on the way. The top two finishers in the June 2016 primary, regardless of political party, advance to the November 2016 general election.

On the Democrat side, it looks like a clash between north (Harris) and south (Sanchez). But this balance could be upset if more Democrats enter the race.

“Do we have two or three or more candidates?” says Rep. Jim Costa, a Fresno Democrat. “I think many of us are waiting to make an endorsement to determine what the ultimate field is going to be.”

Harris has been in the race awhile and has already won some local support.

Visalia attorney and Democratic Party activist Victor Moheno, for example, in February said he was backing Harris. “I see no negatives in her at all,” he said then.

Daniel Parra, who’s challenging incumbent Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, is backing Sanchez. Parra, in turn, has earned Sanchez’s endorsement.

Sanchez just entered the race this month, but already she’s stumbled. First, a draft copy of her campaign announcement leaked, and then she came under fire after making a disparaging gesture about Native Americans at the state Democratic Party convention.

Sanchez apologized, but the incident upset many Valley Hispanics. They’re doubly frustrated because they so far don’t see much that is attractive about Harris, either.

From this point out, it looks like the one who pays real attention to the region could be the one to win local endorsements.

“I plan on talking to both candidates, but won’t make a decision until I hear their views on water, and who will work to build consensus to deliver water to the Valley,” says Assembly Member Henry T. Perea.

Fresno City Council Members Oliver Baines and Sal Quintero echoed Perea.

So did Brian Pacheco, a Kerman Democrat who used to work for Costa and is newly elected to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors..

“The one to really get my attention is the candidate who pays the most attention to the Valley, not only west-side ag issues, but also those issues important to the city of Fresno.”

Pacheco noted the Valley’s conservative roots and wants to know what candidate will “best carry our values.”