The crashing of the blue wave of Democrat victories did not wash over the central San Joaquin Valley in Tuesday’s primary election. If anything, the results show how the region remains steadfastly in the GOP’s camp.
▪ First, the obvious: Incumbent Republican congressmen Devin Nunes and David Valadao had no trouble leading their respective races and are well on their way to being returned to the House of Representatives in the fall.
For Nunes, Congressional District 22 is a great place to live. The GOP has a 10-point advantage in voter registration over Democrats. On Tuesday the Tulare Republican placed first with 58 percent of the vote while Democrat Andrew Janz of Fresno took second with 32 percent. In the Fresno County part of the 22nd, Janz performed slightly better, capturing 34 percent to Nunes’ 56 percent. But in the Tulare County section, Nunes got 61 percent to Janz’s 27.5.
Janz’s message was that Nunes had ignored local needs because he was too preoccupied on the national front with things like the special counsel investigation into the Donald Trump presidential campaign and Russian meddling. That message did not resonate.
Nunes is to the Republican party what San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi is for the Democrats: Highly polarizing on the national level, immensely popular at home.
Similarly, Republican Valadao of Hanford had little trouble dispatching Democrat TJ Cox, winning 64 to 36 percent. Valado faces one of the biggest challenges nationally when it comes to party registration: Democrats hold a 45 percent to 28 percent lead over the GOP in terms of registration. Yet he has easily turned aside challengers in the last two elections, and this year is setting up to be a third breeze for him.
▪ Second, a worrisome note for Democrats are the results of Assembly District 32, where incumbent Rudy Salas trailed Republican Justin Mendes 52 to 48. Mendes, a Hanford city councilman, is the former district director for Valadao. Salas is a moderate Democrat from Bakersfield who bucked his party by voting against raising the gas tax. His campaign ads tried hard to show his moderate approach as he tried to play for Republican support. The sprawling district includes Kings County and parts of Kern County.
▪ Other area Republican incumbents had strong showings: Kevin McCarthy and Tom McClintock in their congressional races; Andy Vidak, 14th state Senate; and Jim Patterson and Frank Bigelow in the Assembly. Newcomer Republicans who won their primaries were Shannon Grove, 16th state Senate, and Andreas Borgeas, 8th state Senate. Incumbent 26th Assemblyman Devon Mathis of Visalia was barely edging out Democrat Jose Sigala.
Not all was lost for Democrats: Jim Costa took the top spot in the race for his House seat and Joaquin Arambula led his race for Assembly. Democrat Anna Caballero also led in the race for the 12th state Senate seat.
▪ In the governor’s race, Republican John Cox, who got President Trump’s endorsement, will face Democrat Gavin Newsom, who will be heavily favored in the fall because of the statewide voter registration edge Democrats enjoy. Cox made many visits to the Valley and held public events. Newsom also made campaign stops to the Valley. But he finished third in voting in Fresno County, with 17 percent of the votes, trailing Cox (34 percent) and Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa (20 percent). Should Newsom become California’s next governor, how much attention will he pay to the Valley?
For Villaraigosa, the result might mark the end of a political career that started in Los Angeles and took him to the post of Assembly speaker and Los Angeles mayor.
▪ Turnout was poor, even by historical standards. On Tuesday only 19 percent of registered voters cast ballots in Fresno County. About 47,000 ballots remain to be tallied; they could push overall turnout toward 29 percent.
The point of the primary was to shake out the top two finishers. Now that has occurred, it is on to the November general election.
A backdrop to all of this, and of possible benefit to Republicans, is the economy, which is doing quite well. According to MarketWatch’s “Trump Scoreboard,” 2.4 million new jobs have been added to the national payroll since February 2017. Wages have risen 2.4 percent in the past 12 months, and the Standard and Poor’s top 500 stocks have risen nearly 25 percent in value. When it comes to winning elections, an aide to President Bill Clinton once intoned, “It’s the economy, stupid.”