California 21: Rubio (D) not running

Nathan L. Gonzales March 5, 2013 · 10:45 AM EDT

Rubio isn’t running, but it’s not the Rubio you’re thinking of.

Late last month, Democrat Michael Rubio of Bakersfield resigned his seat in the California state senate in order to take a private sector job, and his decision is having a ripple effect on both coasts.

Rubio was widely viewed as a rising star in his party, and national Democratic strategists recruited him to run for Congress in 2012 in the 21st Congressional District in Northern California. After he declined to run, Democrats never got their footing.

Democrats in Washington were underwhelmed with Central Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President John Hernandez’s campaign and candidate skills and supported Fresno City Councilman Blong Xiong, who is Hmong, in the primary, but Hernandez became the party’s nominee.

Republican Assemblyman David Valadao, who is of Portuguese descent, won the open seat easily in the general election with 58 percent, even though President Barack Obama won the district with 55 percent. The president’s strong showing put Valadao on a target list of 16 Republican incumbents who represent “Obama districts” in Democrats’ effort to takeover the House of Representatives in 2014.

Democratic strategists planned to recruit Rubio once again until his announcement that he was resigning to become manager of California government affairs for Chevron. The move will likely come with a larger salary for Rubio, who said his decision allows him to spend more time with his family, including a daughter with Down syndrome.

Now, national Democrats are left searching for a quality candidate in what should be a competitive district. But potential congressional candidates in the area will likely first be tempted to run for Rubio’s legislative seat. In California, state senators represent more people, and larger districts, than members of Congress, and thus are sometimes considered more powerful.

Rubio’s absence could have an impact in California politics. According to the Sacramento Bee, he was “a key member of the Senate’s informal bloc of moderate Democrats who will determine the new supermajority’s impact on legislative policy.”

Meanwhile, nationally, as the search for a top congressional candidate continues, John Hernandez is still on the scene. Last week, he sent an email invitation for a March 14 fundraiser at the Elbow Room Bar & Grill in Fresno. At first glance, it looks like Hernandez is running again (since he is soliciting $30 donations for a 2014 exploratory committee), but he is also asking for larger contributions ($2,500, $1,000, and $500) to retire the close to $40,000 of debt he incurred in the last campaign.

With a Hispanic voting age population of 65 percent, the district looks like an opportunity for a Latino candidate who runs a top-tier campaign, but so far, that candidate has not materialized.