FRESNO -- When John Hernández announced in January that he would seek the 21st Congressional District after state Sen. Michael Rubio decided to bow out because of family reasons, not many Democratic leaders gave the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce executive director much of a chance.
The big money and endorsements went to Fresno City Councilmember Blong Xiong.
So, what did Hernández do?
He went south.
"We felt that Kern County was a big opportunity," said Hernández last Thursday, a day after he declared "victory."
Although the final vote totals have yet to be made, Hernández held a comfortable 1,046-vote advantage over Xiong in the latest count. That is expected to send Hernández, 42, into the general election against Republican Assemblymember David Valadao.
In other election results:
Former astronaut José Hernández finished second in the 10th Congressional District race, earning a shot at Republican incumbent Jeff Denham. Hernández, a Democrat, picked up almost 29 percent of the vote, while Denham had 48 percent.
In the 16th Congressional District, incumbent Jim Costa received 41.4 percent of the vote, and will face Republican Brian Daniel Whelan in November. Whelan, whose mother is Latina, got 26 percent of the vote.
Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado appears to have an uphill battle in the 24th Congressional District. Maldonado, a Republican, earned 30.5 percent of the vote, while Democratic incumbent Lois Capps got 46.5 percent.
Stockton City Councilwoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, a Democrat, will face Republican K. 'Jeffrey' Jafri in the 13th Assembly District. Talamantes Eggman got 39.7 percent of the vote in the Democratic-dominant district, while Jafri got 21.5 percent.
Assemblymember Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, had no opponent on the ballot, but a late write-in candidate will force him to run in November.
Former Delano City Councilmember Pedro Ríos could become the first Republican Latino to represent the Valley in the Assembly. Ríos got 24.1 percent of the vote in a four-man field, while Bakersfield City Councilmember Rudy Salas got 39.9 percent.
Hernández, the Hispanic chamber executive, set up his campaign headquarters in Bakersfield. That strategy paid off with a 4,423-to-2,743 vote advantage over Xiong.
Xiong had a 2,302-to-1,547 vote advantage in Fresno County, and the two battled evenly in Kings County. Tulare County represented a tiny fraction of the overall vote.
"Blong's name was not resonating down there at all, and our's was," said Hernández, who picked up an endorsement from The Bakersfield Californian.
Although Xiong raised 10 times more money than Hernández and received endorsements from Costa, former Assemblymember Juan Arámbula and other influential Latino Democrats, Hernández overcame all that.
"We had no money for mail, so we could not do any mail," said Hernández. "We hand-delivered everything."
Voters, he said, were able to see him and connect with him. "It was physically touching the people," he said.
Money, however, will play a key role in November. Valadao, who is leaving his Assembly seat after one term, has about $500,000 in his campaign chest.
"I think money is always very important, but we proved that a person raising less than $20,000 is more effective than someone spending more than $200,000," said Hernández.
"Valadao will have a well-funded campaign, and we think we can beat him," said Hernández, who has been in conversations with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That committee backed Xiong.
Hernández said he is getting calls of support from Xiong's supporters.
One thing he doesn't expect, however, is campaign donations from Hmongs in Minneapolis. Xiong would have been the first Hmong American in Congress had he gone on to win in November.
Hernández, should he win in November, would be the first Latino elected to Congress north of the Tehachapi Mountains. José Hernández, the former astronaut and no relation, would join him in making history.
Ballots are still being counted statewide, and they could influence the eventual outcome of some close contests.
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