Ricardo ‘Rico’ Franco is finding out that running against five-term incumbent Devin Nunes is an uphill battle not only because the 22nd Congressional District is heavily Republican, but because another Democrat has sucked up most of the media oxygen.
The 33-year-old account manager for a national protection services business has gone largely unnoticed after Fresno County deputy district attorney Andrew Janz drew national attention, funding and endorsement from celebrities and political veterans.
Nunes was re-elected by a 35-point percentage margin two years ago. The district is 42 percent Republican; 33 percent Democrat.
Democrat Bobby Bliatout, who won the endorsement of the California Latina Democrats in Fresno County, is also on the ballot.
As of the end of March, Franco had raised $44,507 for his campaign. Nunes had $2.5 million, Janz had $1.4 million, and Bliatout had $169,000.
“You work with what you have,” Franco said at a February meeting with The Fresno Bee editorial board. “We have passionate supporters. We’ve been knocking on doors since December.”
Franco, who was born in Long Beach and graduated from Clovis West High School, earned a degree in economics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
He moved back to Fresno in 2006 and began working for the protection services business. He was 22 years old when he assumed operations of a company with 33 workers. Franco grew that company to 85 full-time workers “during the Great Recession.”
Franco is banking on his business skills and his lifelong experience to sell himself to voters.
He believes an investment in education technology will better prepare students. Teachers, he added, also need to be paid better.
“Teaching is the only profession where you shell out thousands of your own dollars to be successful at their own jobs,” said Franco. “There is a disparity in support.”
Franco said Trump, who won the district by less than 10 points, has unleashed a wave of voters who are not happy with his policies.
“Trump (ticked) off a lot of people, a lot of progressive people,” said Franco. “They are teachers, farmworkers, small business owners, some are Dreamers, or parents of Dreamers.”
Older voters, he said, “are battle-worn and weary.”
“They see in me a new generation,” he said. “It’s the youth that finally has some skin in the game.”
Only five of 435 Congressmembers are under the age of 35, he said.
“We are literally fighting for our future,” said Franco. “You have to be the change.”
Despite the attention Janz has built, Franco believes he can mount an effective campaign.
“Our strategy to win is on what we can control: The ground game,” he said.
Trump (ticked) off a lot of people, a lot of progressive people. They are teachers, farmworkers, small business owners, some are Dreamers, or parents of Dreamers.
Ricardo ‘Rico’ Franco, 22nd Congressional District candidate
Franco said there are pockets of voters in rural areas like Dinuba and Orosi that have been overlooked.
“We’re not paying for air game because we have a ground game,” said Franco.
He said Nunes has failed to represent the voters in the district on issues like water and immigration reform.
Franco, who speaks Spanish and even sings in that language, has been a key supporter of veterans who have been deported to México. During the state Democratic convention in San Diego, he visited with deported veterans in Tijuana.
On the issues:
▪ Economy: Reduce taxes for the middle class and small businesses; focus on the underemployed, and close the income gap.
▪ Health care: Make healthy food more readily available; protect Medicare; and, expand mental health services.
▪ Veterans: Improve outreach services; increase funding for transitional programs; and, extend funding for mental health services.
▪ Immigration: Supports the Dream Act; backs skilled worker visas; and, believes the country should continue to accept refugees.
▪ Environment: Opposes fracking; supports efforts to tackle climate change; supports more green jobs; and, believes clean drinking water must be ensured.