More than most anywhere else in the state, Valley Democrats depend on heavy turnouts to survive, especially during primaries, when crowded fields of candidates slice and dice votes so that outcomes often depend on hard-core voters whose loyalties tend deeply conservative and favor hard-right candidates.
Even though turnouts for this year’s primaries rivaled all-time lows, outcomes were often surprising. In most races, Valley Democrats exceeded expectations, especially in the contest for California’s Senate District 4, where two Democrats finished ahead of Republican George Radanovich, who had the advantage of name recognition and prior terms in office. Unless there’s a radical and unprecedented change as the vote is finalized, Democrats Tim Robertson and Marie Alvarado-Gil will both advance.
Farther south, David Valadao, one of ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump, faces stiff competition from Democrat Rudy Salas, who finished ahead of a field of four at 43.6% of the vote. Valadao edged out two Republican competitors with 26.1%, followed by Chris Mathys (22.2%) and Adam Medeiros (8.1%).
Rising Dem star Esmeralda Soria took the lead spot in the race for State Assembly District 27, but three Republican opponents compiled a larger overall total vote. That was the case in several races, and a warning sign that Democrats can’t become complacent with primary wins. Holding primary advantages will depend heavily on get out the vote efforts for November’s General Election.
Drama and sleaze competed for attention in State Assembly race 22, where Jessica Self staved off a last-minute stealth attack from self-anointed Democrat Chad Condit. Many insiders thought Condit had pulled off a masterful tactical maneuver when he jumped into the race after a quick makeover from “Undeclared” to “Democrat.”
Condit was employing a tried and true tactic favored by Valley conservatives for decades. The tactic dictates that when a true Democrat runs against a Valley Republican, a self-proclaimed “centrist” Democrat can garner support by demonizing the Democrat as a liberal leftist. In the San Joaquin Valley, the conservative Democrat persona was pioneered by “Blue Dog” Gary Condit, a former Democratic Congressmember and Chad’s father.
Initially, the campaign for District 22 featured Republican Juan Alanis versus Democrat Self. Condit realized that Alanis, a deputy sheriff, would very likely characterize Public Defender Self as soft on crime. In a heavily Democratic district, Condit figured he could join Alanis in pushing Self aside while he grabbed the Democrat mantle away from her.
Condit got a predictable endorsement from the Modesto Bee, the district’s major newspaper. Though his candidate’s interview was lackluster and perfunctory, Condit knew he could count on the Bee’s long history of endorsing conservatives to get him the journalistic nod. Always fearful of the “liberal” label, the Bee, like many other Valley media, tends to leap at opportunities to endorse self-proclaimed centrists, even while knowing the center they claim to occupy is in the right lane.
Insiders who thought Condit’s name recognition and “Democrat” ruse would be enough to propel him into the General Election were stunned when Self smacked him down. Some thought mailers sliming Self as soft on crime may have backfired against Condit, especially when news got out that the mailers were funded by the likes of Big Oil, big Pharma, and Walmart
Another factor may have been more important. Unlike Chad Condit, Jessica Self has dedicated years to building a local constituency of true Democrats. In the process, she’s helped raise political awareness and brought together a consensus return to Democratic values that represent working- and middle class voters. Like Congressman Josh Harder, Self has shown an ability to connect with and listen to Valley Democrats who long ago gave up on representation in either Sacramento or Washington D.C.
That same constituency may have provided the propulsion that pushed two Democrats past George Radanovich in the Senate District 4 race. Like Condit, Republican Radanovich had name recognition and a “moderate” label. Nonetheless, he couldn’t muster enough support to finish ahead of Robertson and Alvarado-Gil.
With California State Senator Anna Caballero poised for another Democratic win in District 14, the marquee contest that could well determine the future drift of Valley Politics will be between Adam Gray and John Duarte in California Congressional District 13, with the bout between Valadao and Salas serving as the undercard.
With massive funding from Kevin McCarthy’s Congressional Leadership Fund, both Valadao and Duarte will have as much money as they need to blitz the campaign trail from now until November. Along with recently departed Devin Nunes, McCarthy has managed to keep the southern part of the Valley for the most part deep, MAGA red. The big question centering on the Duarte/Gray race is whether McCarthy’s influence and dollars can bring about a win for Duarte in a district where Gray is well known for his many years as a member of California’s State Assembly.
A self-described “radical centrist,” Gray finished just ahead of Duarte in the June 7 Primary, despite Duarte’s early advantage in fundraising. Their battle will offer a close look at the current Republican dilemma: How hard must Republicans push their MAGA bona fides to bring out the Trump base while somehow managing to assure independent voters they’re not Big Lie crazy?
With the House January 6 Committee presenting a mountain of evidence that Donald Trump sought to undermine and overthrow democracy in the United States of America, November elections won’t be the usual tussle between Democrats and Republicans. Instead, California and the nation face an existential battle for the country’s soul.
The one constant in the San Joaquin Valley is the need for Democratic voters to show up and vote their values. Democrats need to turn out. This year, they have the best slate of candidates in decades. That should be more than enough motivation to come out and win.