Andy Vidak's stunning win in the special election in California's 16th State Senate District — becoming the first Republican senator from the Central Valley district in nearly 20 years — is being closely analyzed by state and national GOP strategists.
What was most impressive about the July 23 result was that a Republican had emerged triumphant in a district with a constituency that is 22.3 percent white and 63.2 percent Hispanic.
At a time when Republican leaders increasingly worry about their appeal to the growing Hispanic-American vote, many are now asking of the 46-year-old Vidak: "How did he do it?"
With all provisional and absentee ballots finally counted days ago, Vidak, a cherry farmer and moderate Republican, rolled up 52.1 percent of the vote against Democrat Leticia Perez, the Kern County supervisor.
In a state where Republicans lost every statewide office in the last two election cycles and where Democrats hold "supermajorities" in both the assembly and senate, Vidak's victory was the first time since 1993 that a Republican captured a previously Democratic senate seat anywhere in a California special election.
Vidak — who speaks fluent Spanish — took a page from the book of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and other Republicans with large Hispanic constituencies by speaking before any Latino community group that would invite him.
After declaring victory, the Republican told reporters he estimated he won about 25 percent of the Hispanic vote — double what Republicans usually win in the district.
Vidak made it clear in the campaign that he favored the "path to citizenship" that is now included in the immigration reform package that was passed by the U. S. Senate and vigorously opposed by many conservatives.
That position was consistent with one taken by Vidak in his almost-successful race for Congress in 2010, when he drew 48.2 percent of the vote against Democratic Rep. Jim Costa.
Did his position on immigration cost the Republican nominee votes from the right-of-center grassroots in his party?
"Not in the least," state Republican Chairman Jim Brulte told Newsmax, noting that the "Central Valley Tea Party played a very significant role working in this race. So did the California Republican Assembly, the oldest volunteer Republican organization in California, which sent in 150 volunteers to canvass on Andy's behalf."
Brulte pointed out that the California Young Republicans under President Joe Sanchez "bused in hundreds of workers" for Vidak and the Republican Federation of Women canvassed on his behalf and helped make "more than 30,000 get-out-the-vote calls."
"It was a team effort," said Brulte, who proudly recalled going door-to-door himself in "the 102-degree heat that's so common in the Central Valley this time of year."
Brulte and other Republicans were joined in the canvassing by Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, Assistant Republican Leader Mimi Walters, and other lawmakers. The Senate Republican Caucus pumped in a substantial sum to Vidak's campaign kitty, while the state Republican Party raised an estimated $300,000, according to Brulte.
Brulte pointed out that Vidak "was unquestionably the anti-tax candidate. He opposed Proposition 30, and his opponent favored it" — referring to the statewide initiative raising sales and income taxes last year that was strongly backed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.
"And he was opposed to the high-speed rail — the 'train to nowhere' — and she supported it," Brulte said.
Brulte and other Republicans admitted that Perez, an attorney, had her own problems, including moving into the district to run, and seeking the senate seat only seven months after she had been elected to her county office.
But, the chairman emphasized, "This was a center-right district and she was a liberal. Winning starts with the right candidate and, in this case, we had one."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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