California state senate candidate rejuvenating a moribund party

A state senate candidate in California is on the verge of winning a race to replace a retiring legislator in a district that is 60% Hispanic and heavily Democratic.

Andy Vidak, a farmer from the Central Valley, ran a pro-business, pro-development campaign and is an inch from winning an outright majority in the open primary. The Wall Street Journal reports that it wasn't that he connected with Hispanics culturally, or tempered his message to please moderate Democrats. Vidak touted the potential in his district to develop shale oil feilds and take back decresing water allocations that are strangling farmers in what used to be the most productive agricultural land on the planet.

My dream always was to have a few cows," Mr. Vidak says. After graduating from Texas Tech in 1991 with a degree in animal business, he worked agricultural jobs in California. With his savings, he bought land in Kings County to grow cherries and raise a small herd of cattle in the hills of Tulare. Such is the California dream east of the coastal ranges.

Mr. Vidak's campaign theme was the bifurcation of California: the coastal liberal elites versus the Valley folks. "We're getting left behind here," he says. "They don't view us as important."

Case in point: The unemployment rate in Mr. Vidak's district is about 15%--two to three times as high as in the Bay Area--and exceeds 30% in some communities. The culprit? "Our water has been cut off by the far left," he says.

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!"

His election opponent, Ms. Perez, endorsed the bullet train "as the biggest jobs plan in California history." However, she campaigned principally on raising the state minimum wage to $9.25 from $8, an issue that plays well in union-dominated, urban areas but didn't resonate with the Valley's farmers and small business owners.

Notwithstanding her Hispanic heritage, Ms. Perez appeared out of touch with Valley voters' values and concerns. She raised twice as much money as Mr. Vidak, but 90% of her contributions came from outside the district.

Despite Democrats' huge funding and voter advantage, Mr. Vidak was leading Ms. Perez by six points late Friday. If he fails to win an outright majority of the vote, the two will square off in a runoff on July 23.

National Republicans take note; you don't have to pledge your eternal support for immigration reform to get Hispanics to sit up and take notice. Nor do you have to trim your sails politically to reach Democrats. The GOP should be the party of good jobs -jobs that do not come from government, but are generated by moving government out of the way.

It may be too optimistic to think that this one candidacy can turn the fortunes around for a party that has not been competitive for a decade or more. But there are valuable lessons to be learned from Vidak's campaign and it wouldn't hurt if Republicans around the country went to school on the California farmer's methods.