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HANFORD — After all the advertisements, fliers, phone calls and door knocks, the 16th state Senate District special election comes down to Tuesday.

The math is simple: Because of expected low turnout, whoever can do a better job of getting the party faithful to turn out is going to win.

That’s the consensus of experts watching the race play out since Michael Rubio’s resignation opened the seat in late February and set off a scramble for candidates.

The Republican Party threw its weight behind Hanford farmer Andy Vidak. The Democratic Party lined up behind newly-elected Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez. Toss in Democrats Francisco Ramirez and Paulina Miranda and Peace and Freedom Party candidate Mohammad Arif, and you have a five-way rumble for a seat that will be up for re-election in 2014.

The rules of this special election say that if a single candidate gets a majority of the votes cast by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, he or she wins the seat. If nobody gets more than 50 percent, the top two finishers go on to a July 23 runoff.

Clear front-runners Vidak and Perez hope to reach the magic majority mark on Tuesday in order to avoid an expensive two-month extension to their campaigns.

They’ve already raised at least $2 million, according to state campaign finance records. Perez has amassed about $1.1 million, while Vidak has pulled in about $900,000. The other three candidates have raised little or no money.

It’s basically a battle between Vidak, the lone Republican, and Perez, the Democratic Party’s rising star from Bakersfield.

Most analysts think Perez has the edge because Democrats have an 18-percentage-point voter registration advantage in the district.

But that hasn’t always worked out for Democrats in conservative-leaning districts like the 16th. A good example is Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, who defeated Democrat John Hernandez with 58 percent of the vote in the Democratic-leaning 21st Congressional District in 2010.

“It’s totally a tactical campaign going on right now,” said Republican consultant Allan Hoffenblum. “All they’re trying to do is energize their base and get them to the polls.”

An estimated 37,162 absentee ballots from the district’s  286,694 registered voters had been turned as of Friday morning.  Registered Democrats turned in 18,386 ballots, while registered Republicans had turned in 14,025 ballots.

Turnout is already 13 percent. According to both camps, it could reach 20 percent or higher by Tuesday.

That compares to several other state special elections held this year that had turnout between 9 and 27 percent. Tuesday’s special election in state Senate District 32, which includes two Southern California counties, had just 35,000 votes cast for two candidates, or about 12 percent turnout.

Perez campaign advisor Trent Hager said he likes the trend, but he stopped short of predicting that Perez would get 50 percent on Tuesday.

“We believe this will be a two-round race,” he said.

The longer the race goes on, the more the edge goes to Perez because of her voter registration advantage, according to Hoffenblum.

Democratic campaign consultant Gene Tackett agreed. Tackett predicted a runoff on July 23.

“We’ll probably respend another couple of million bucks on the Republican side as well as the Democratic side,” he said.

The Vidak campaign, behind in the fundraising contest, is going all-out for a win on Tuesday. Vidak released an internal poll in April showing him at 45 percent and Perez at 21 percent.

That may have triggered Democrats to pour more money into their ground game to get out the vote, Hoffenblum said.

Hager conceded that he’s focused more than usual on precinct walking and phone calls.

Meanwhile, the Vidak camp is manning phone banks and walking precincts through Tuesday, said Tim Orman, Vidak’s chief strategist.

“The way most people categorize this, they call it a turnout race,” Orman said. “I think the poll vote is going to be really low.”

Orman said he’s focused resources on the ground game, hiring more people to walk door to door and getting more volunteers. The district includes all of Kings and parts of Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties, and Orman said he’s targeting the counties equally.

Orman knows as well as anybody that Vidak’s success hinges on Republican turnout. Republicans typically vote in higher numbers than Democrats in special elections.

“It’s going to be fun Tuesday night,” Orman said.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or snidever@hanfordsentinel.com.

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