After their drubbing in the 2012 election, the California chapter of the GOP had reached a low point, with the Democrats holding the Governorship as well as a supermajority in the State House. But only six months later, the party is already showing signs of life after new State Senator Andy Vidak defeated his Democratic rival in a special election to fill the seat of a departing senator.The election is noticeable because the odds were stacked against him. The district, located in California’s Central Valley, is heavily gerrymandered to favor the Democrats, and is 60 percent Hispanic. Vidak’s rival Leticia Perez, a Latina and a former public defender, fits the profile of the district, while Vidak, a white farmer from the GOP, does not. Yet despite his disadvantages, Vidak won by a convincing 10 point margin, 52 percent to 42 percent.The loss of a senate seat is obviously bad news for the Democrats, but it’s the issues he used to defeat his rival that should strike fear into Democrats elsewhere in the state. As Allysia Finley of the WSJ reports, Vidak’s victory was won by hammering the Democrat on a few key points: jobs, the environment, and the bullet train. In a district where unemployment stands at 15 percent, these issues resonated with the local population:
Regulations to protect smelt from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta water pumps have created a California water shortage, which is particularly acute in the Valley. This year farmers south of the delta will receive only 20% of their contracted allocations. An irking irony is that the smelt’s biggest killer is the wastewater that Sacramento dumps into the delta.“It’s fish versus farmer,” he says, and liberals are siding with the fish.Other species-protection policies have removed thousands of acres of land from production, endangering the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers. Meanwhile, California’s bullet train, beloved by liberals, will slash through Mr. Vidak’s district and raze hundreds of farms, homes and businesses.“We don’t have clean drinking water in some areas of our district,” Mr. Vidak says. “And they want to build an $80 billion bullet train!”
Much of the California Democrats’ electoral strategy is playing on identity politics to win votes. But in this case, it appears that economics trumed ethnicity, at least in the Central Valley. If this is a sign of a broader trend, the Democrats could be in trouble in the next election.