HANFORD — State Senate hopeful Leticia Perez has conceded the 16th state Senate District race to Andy Vidak after updated results put her more than 5,300 votes behind with about 8,000 votes left to count.
Perez needs to capture almost 84 percent of the remaining ballots to win an improbable victory. After saying on election night the campaign would not make an official statement until all the votes were counted, Perez consultant Trent Hager reversed course and threw in the towel Wednesday afternoon.
“The deficit was too large to overcome,” he said.
A statement issued on behalf of Perez congratulated Vidak. “I want to take this opportunity to thank the thousands of voters who supported my campaign for the 16th District,” said Perez. “The voters have spoken and I want to congratulate Andy on his victory.
“This campaign is over. Andy has earned the right to represent us in Sacramento and I look forward to him delivering on his promises to create jobs, improve our economy and deliver fresh, reliable water to our farms and families.”
In a statement released shortly after the Perez announcement, Vidak thanked his family, staff, volunteers and the district’s voters and reached out to his opponent.
“It was a spirited campaign and I look forward to working with Supervisor Perez along with every other elected official in the district,” said Vidak. “We all have to set aside our differences and work together to make this Valley a better and safer place to live. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Hager said an independent campaign in support of Vidak run by the California Association of Realtors hurt Perez. One CAR flier put the face of Perez next to a photo of a tortured dog. During her stint as a public defender in Kern County, Perez was assigned to represent the defendant in a criminal case involving alleged dog torture.
The ad was part of a larger fight between the Realtors association and leading Democrats in Sacramento, including Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
“The Realtors’ nasty, negative campaign impacted the race,” said Hager.
Kern County counted 1,522 votes Wednesday, leaving about 7,956 absentee and provisional ballots left to be counted.
Vidak has won 53.6 percent of the vote to pile up a 5,351-vote edge. Perez would need to win about 83.6 percent of the remaining votes to edge Vidak.
Updated results are expected by week’s end. Fresno County election officials said they expect to report new tallies on Friday afternoon. Officials in Kern, Kings and Tulare counties said they are aiming to have fresh totals sometime before the end of the week.
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About 5,700 of the outstanding absentee and provisional ballots are in Fresno County, where returns slightly favored Perez, a Kern County supervisor. She also led in Kern, where 723 votes remain to be counted.
Vidak, a cherry farmer, held wide margins in his home county of Kings and in Tulare County, where a combined 1,433 ballots remain. Of those, about 433 are in Kings County, including 260 absentee and 173 provision ballots.
Democrats had hoped to hold the seat to protect their supermajority status in the Senate, prompting a flood of campaign contributions and a flurry of negative ads in both English and Spanish. Each campaign reported raising roughly $2 million.
If Vidak wins the seat, he’ll become the 12th senator in the 40-member Senate, so Senate Democrats will still maintain their two-thirds majority for this year. The party is expected to face several tough Senate contests in 2014.
The runoff came after Vidak won just shy of 50 percent of the vote in the May primary. Perez received about 44 percent of the vote in that race, which featured three other candidates.
Perez also conceded in that race before surging in late returns to remain alive and force another two months of campaigning.
The winner will replace Democrat Michael Rubio of Bakersfield, who resigned in February to work in the capital for Chevron Corp. Perez previously worked as an aide to Rubio and as an attorney in the Kern County Public Defender’s Office.
Democrats currently hold a voter registration advantage in the district, with 51 percent to Republicans’ 31 percent. But the winner will have to run again next year in a reconfigured district that will be somewhat more favorable for Republicans.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, played a visible role in Vidak’s campaign and was on hand Tuesday night at the campaign’s election party at the Vidak Ranch near Armona.
“It’s a big shot in the arm and gets us back on the path,” said Huff. “It shows Republicans are not out of the game.”
Huff said the party is seeing a new synergy that included involvement and support from the state party as well as Republican Assembly and Senate members.
“We had over 350 workers and volunteers over the weekend, and that’s pretty amazing,” he said. “For those who couldn’t come to the Valley, we had phone banks from across the state, because phones go everywhere.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. The reporters can be reached at 583-2423 or 583-2432.