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Unfortunately for Democrats, Rubio decided against running because of family considerations, and the next logical nominee, state Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, also took a pass. Desperate for a credible nominee for the competitive open-seat race, Democratic insiders wooed Fresno City Councilman Blong Xiong into the contest, even though his Hmong ethnicity wasn’t an ideal fit for this Hispanic district.
Though he was locked in a primary fight against Hernandez, Xiong was immediately placed on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Emerging Races list, and he was endorsed by Rubio, Democratic Rep. Jim Costa (who represented some of the area before redistricting), the California Labor Federation and a long list of current and former officeholders.
But Xiong couldn’t overcome Hernandez’s ethnic advantage in the primary, and national Democrats were left with a nominee who hadn’t raised money or put together a campaign and who didn’t have the candidate skills to compete in a high-profile race for Congress.
One measure of candidate strength and of campaign competitiveness is money. Through Oct. 17, Valadao raised a little more than $1.2 million, including $683,000 from individuals. Hernandez raised a grand total of $107,000, including just under $40,000 from individuals.
If that financial chasm wasn’t enough of a disadvantage for Hernandez, a Republican super PAC, Crossroads GPS, reacting to an erroneous Hernandez poll that showed the Democrat trailing by only 4 points, spent $640,000 on television to support Valadao. He won by 18 points.
Hernandez’s campaign was embarrassing. At one point, he sent out an email that misspelled Karl Rove’s name twice (“Carl Rove”), and his television ad looked more like a “Saturday Night Live” skit than a real TV spot for a serious contender.
Reading some big meaning about Hispanic voters and Republican messaging into the outcome of this race may be comforting, but it simply is wrong. Others should be careful to not make the same error.
Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (rothenbergpoliticalreport.com).