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Why The Central Valley Has Been In The Political Spotlight

The countdown is on. The candidates and their supporters have swarmed the state. It’s just a few days until the big California presidential primary and this time the Central Valley is flexing some political muscle.

The unusual attention lavished on the region could be a sign of things to come.

Over the course of a week, the Central Valley has had visits from some of the heaviest hitters in American politics.

Starting with former President Bill Clinton stumping for his wife, the Democratic front-runner former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Well, hello Fresno State,”

Followed later in the week by the presumptive Republican Nominee Donald Trump.

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Jeffrey Hess
/
Valley Public Radio

“What a crowd! It’s so beautiful. I know Fresno quite well, you know this right?”

And Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders made multiple stops in the valley over Memorial Day Weekend.

“Fresno, welcome to the political revolution!”

Secretary Clinton might even make a speech this weekend, meaning all the remaining candidates have taken the time to visit the valley and talk about valley centric issues.

The attention is rather uncommon for a primary campaign but it could also reflect growing political influence of the San Joaquin Valley, especially among Hispanic voters.

Anna Lopez Is a Hillary Clinton supporter who thinks Hispanic voters will remain loyal because of fond memories of the 1990’s.

“I think because also her husband was president so the Hispanic community got a good taste from Bill Clinton so they think they are going to get more benefit from Bill Clinton,” Lopez says.

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That connection is not lost on the Clinton campaign. They have sent Hispanic liaisons and spokespeople like Jorge Silva to local media to remind voters of their long relationship with the Clintons.

“She didn’t just start talking about Latino issues when she started running for president. It is something she has been fighting for, for a long, long time,” Silva says

That’s not to say that the Sanders campaign has not tried to appeal to Hispanic voters, with promises of a path to citizenship for undocumented residents, which Clinton also supports, and tuition-free college.

Take this line from his speech at the Fresno Fairgrounds.

“My father came to this country at the age of 17. No money. He couldn’t speak English. Never made a lot of money. But he loved this country and all that it did for him and his kids. And that is the story of millions of immigrant families,”

There is no publicly available polling on who Hispanic voters in the Valley support, but there was sparse support among local Latino politicians.

Still, in my informal survey of the three crowds, the Sanders message resonates with younger Hispanics like 21-year old Estevan Parra who are skeptical of Secretary Clinton’s decades in the public eye.

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“Bernie Sanders’ history whatever he believes in since day one he sticks with these past 20 plus years. As opposed to Hillary, voting for Hillary, having Hillary as our president is like opening a can of worms. It’s just a bunch of lies and that’s something I don’t want to deal with,” Parra says.

The stakes are high for valley Latinos both politically and practically.

Mr. Trump has vocally called for a wall along the US-Mexican border and for forced deportation of some 12-million undocumented mostly Hispanic immigrants. That could have a huge impact on the local farming economy.

Yet, it opposition to undocumented immigration that drew Andy Pereda to the Trump campaign.

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“Building the wall. Immigration obviously is a big deal for us. We definitely have to stick with that. That is our biggest issue, at least one of them. And he is continuing to grow in support. So more people are starting to see that,” Pereda says.

Trump has found some support among valley Hispanic voters although it’s hard to tell how much. Deandre Palia is a Latino Trump supporter who thinks his community has been misled…

“He is not worried about public image. He is not worried about people who say he is racist. He is not racist. You have never seen an actual quote where he says ‘I hate Mexicans’ or ‘I hate Blacks’ or ‘I hate minorities,’” Palia says.

The reason for the focus by Democratic candidates is understandable as they scrap for every vote, but why did Mr. Trump rally here?

Part of the reason for his visit is that the Valley is one of few areas in California where Trump might find conservative support, according to Fresno State political science professor Jeff Cummins.

Still, Cummins says Trump’s reputation for being anti-immigrant would set back any potential gains with local voters.

“There is always a certain percentage of voters that are turning out to vote against a candidate. You might even say that is a strong incentive than turning out to vote in support of a candidate,” says Cummins.

Trump has no remaining opponents on Tuesday but a general election win in California could be difficult against either Democratic candidate.

Polls of the Democratic race have bounced wildly all over the place, but recent surveys show an apparently tight race between Clinton and Sanders.

Their appeals to the valley, and specifically Hispanic voters, could play a key role in Tuesday’s race.

Jeffrey Hess is a reporter and Morning Edition news host for Valley Public Radio. Jeffrey was born and raised in a small town in rural southeast Ohio. After graduating from Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio with a communications degree, Jeffrey embarked on a radio career. After brief stops at stations in Ohio and Texas, and not so brief stops in Florida and Mississippi, Jeffrey and his new wife Shivon are happy to be part Valley Public Radio.