It's going to take a lot more than one California state Senate seat chaging hands to alter the political fortunes of Republicans in California,, but hope is a precious thing, and the surprise - even shocking - victory last week of a white, conservative rancher in a 60% Hispanic district might be a turning point for a party that has been virtually shut out in state politics for more than 15 years.
According to the logic of politics, Leticia Perez should have handily won the heavily Democratic and Hispanic district in California's central valley, and her failure to do so has Republicans eager to develop a victory template for struggling GOP candidates elsewhere in the deep-blue state and across the country.
Fresno cherry farmer and cattle rancher Andy Vidak, who is fluent in Spanish, said he captured the state Senate seat in last week's closely watched runoff vote by connecting with Hispanic voters with a "common-sense" approach that focused on job creation, affordable energy and opposition to big government. He even cooked menudo, a cow-stomach soup and a Mexican favorite, at a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event at the Bakersfield fairgrounds where 10,000 Hispanics turned out.
He got a big assist from other GOP officeholders and hundreds of Spanish-speaking Republican volunteers going door to door, making pitches in Spanish where necessary in the 60 percent Hispanic district. Mr. Vidak also managed to create a little political daylight from hard-liners in his party on the issue of eventually granting citizenship to illegal immigrant
"We talked to them in their homes, where they are most comfortable on the issues that matter most to them: improving the economy, lower taxes, less government interference with small business," Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen said.
Fresno GOP Chairman Kurtis Wiley said he had never seen a party work harder and rally its resources any better.
While Democrats are in the governor's mansion and have legislative supermajorities in both houses of the legislature, a new kind of GOP leadership suddenly is thinking about making major inroads in California, and they are not embarrassed to say so aloud.
"California can be Republican again," said former state Senate leader Jim Brulte, the new state GOP chairman and the first one in recent memory who has real experience in party-building, winning elections and managing fellow GOP lawmakers.The California state Republican party has largely been irrelevant since the mid-1990's. There are currently 38 Democrats and both Senators out of 53 congressional seats. The GOP was virtually gerrymandered out of existence in 2012, which makes any significant comeback very difficult.
But Democrats aren't blind and even they can see what their party has done to a place once known as the "Golden State." Vidak's victory may, indeed, be an isolated event. But there must have been something in his campaign that transcended previous efforts at Hispanic outreach and led to a big win for Republicans.
Is there a formula for success? I'm sure if there is, other GOP candidates will be looking for it.