The race for one solidly Democrat state Senate seat in Fresno, California could prove crucial for Republicans looking to break a Democrat supermajority in the chamber.
Republican incumbent Andy Vidak, a local farmer elected to the seat last year in a special election, will face off against Democrat challenger Luis Chavez, a Fresno Unified School District trustee, in the race for the 14th state Senate district.
According to the Fresno Bee, the race will likely be an “intensely fought battle.”
Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican strategist and author of the California Target Book, told the Bee that the 14th state Senate district in Fresno would normally lean Democratic, but in this case, “the race is a toss-up — but only because of the strength of Vidak.”
Indeed, the Bee claims Vidak is “pretty much a household name” in the district after coming just a few thousand votes shy of an upset win over Democrat Jim Costa in a 2010 congressional election, then winning the special election for state Senate last year.
Vidak has successfully parlayed his increased visibility into an endorsement from the California Republican Party, as well as strong support from the agricultural and business communities in Fresno. However, Chavez holds a strong lead in fundraising, having raised nearly $1 million since August 1 to Vidak’s $400,000 in the same time period. According to the Bee, both campaigns have begun running television ads, as well as campaign mailers and radio ads.
The tone of the contest has turned noticeably confrontational recently, with both campaigns using “negative ads” to attack their opponents. Chavez has hit Vidak for voting against minimum wage increases, while Vidak maintains the people of Fresno would rather have a politically independent representative looking out for their needs than a Democrat who will vote strictly along party lines.
“I don’t poke people in the eye,” Vidak told the Bee. “I don’t kick them in the shins there. That’s no way of getting along in any business. The folks up there actually respect me.”
“I will make votes for my district and not so much for my party,” he added. “I am going to be independent.”
Chavez, for his part, believes his status as a Democrat will help him get things done in the chamber.
“Everybody that goes up there, they talk to Democrats to get things done,” Chavez told the Bee. “When you’re up there in a majority party, that’s very beneficial for your communities. They (Republicans) are on the sidelines now.”
Chavez will have to tap into that Democrat support if he is to win the race; 49 percent of the district’s voters are registered Democrats, while just 29 percent are registered Republicans. Furthermore, 54 percent of registered voters in the district are Hispanic.
“When you look at numbers like that, there’s no way the Democrats can stay out of this race,” California Target Book author Hoffenblum said in the report.