The moment Tulare County native Connie Perez abruptly dropped out of the 21st Congressional District race last week – which came less than a month after getting in – frustrated local Democrats began casting about for a replacement.
And it looks like they may have found a candidate in Bakersfield City School District Trustee Andrae Gonzales.
“I’ve been approached to run by several local community leaders late last week,” Gonzales says. “But I’m still thinking about it.”
If Gonzales enters the race, he will join fellow Democrat Daniel T. Parra, who is currently Fowler’s mayor pro tem, in the battle to oust incumbent Hanford Republican David Valadao. Parra announced his entry into the race more than six months ago, but his tepid fundraising numbers have sent Democrats scurrying to find an alternative.
Among those in the candidate hunt is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is clearly perplexed about why it can’t win a seat where Democrats hold a 17-percentage point voter registration advantage. Even with a double-digit registration deficit, Valadao soundly thrashed opponents in 2012 and 2014.
Gonzales says he has talked with the DCCC about running.
He says he has done nonprofit work for more than a decade in addition to his school board seat representing East Bakersfield.
“This could be an opportunity for me to continue the work on a larger scale,” he says. “But … my dad just died three months ago and I’m still working through the loss. I also have a full-time job as a nonprofit executive director and I’m working on many community projects. I have to see if now is the right time. I want to take my time and make a thoughtful decision.”
The 21st Congressional District, which includes all of Kings County and parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties, is a majority Latino district where President Barack Obama won 55.7 percent of the vote in 2012. Still, Valadao won 57.8 percent of the vote to Democrat John Hernandez’s 42.2 percent in 2012 and won by the same margin last year against Democrat Amanda Renteria, a central San Joaquin Valley native with a sterling résumé and a Stanford undergrad degree.
As Democrats make a third run at Valadao, Parra has not excited leadership. The DCCC is not interested in helping him. Parra is soldiering on, recently announcing endorsements.