In an illustration of the degree to which name recognition and occupancy of a high profile public office have a powerful impact on the electorate, Rialto City Councilman Joe Baca Jr. and Fontana City Councilman Jesse Armendarez on Tuesday proved to be the two top vote-getters among four candidates in the race to succeed Josie Gonzales as 5th District county supervisor.
The 5th District race provided a remarkable political test tube, as Gonzales, a former Fontana councilwoman who was first elected supervisor in 2004 and was then reelected handily in 2008, 2012 and 2016, was obliged, by the passage of term limit-instituting Measure P in 2006, to leave office as of this year. In this way, all of those competing in the race this year could not claim the advantage of being the incumbent. All four, however, brought to the electoral table certain relative advantages and disadvantages.
The Fifth District, which encompasses the eastern half of Fontana, all of Rialto, Bloomington and Colton as well as the western half of San Bernardino, is a heavily Democratic and Latino district. All four candidates who entered the race – Armendarez, Baca, Dan Flores and Nadia Renner – are Hispanic.
Among the 5th District’s 183,780 voters eligible to vote in the election, 92,245 or 50.2 were registered as Democrats, while 34,156 or 18.6 percent were registered Republicans. At the same time in the 5th District, voters with no political affiliation – 45,636 or 24.8 – outnumbered the district’s Republican voters. And while city and county elections in San Bernardino County are officially considered nonpartisan, party affiliation in those contests has historically been a primary factor in their outcome.
Both Baca and Flores are Democrats. Armendarez is a Republican. Renner has no party affiliation.
At the same time, Renner currently holds no public office. Baca and Armendarez fill their respective council posts. Flores is a public officeholder, as well, a member of the Colton Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees. In addition, Flores is employed by Josie Gonzales as her chief of staff. In the run-up to this week’s election, Gonzales had endorsed Flores.
Another factor in the race was that Baca’s father, Joe Baca, Sr. is a longtime politician who represented different portions of the Fifth District in different capacities for two decades, first as a member of the Assembly, then as a member of the California State Senate and then for more than a decade in Congress. This, perhaps, gave the younger Baca greater name recognition than any of his rivals in the race.
Despite his greater name recognition, however, Baca stood well behind both Armendarez and Flores in terms of funding for this year’s campaign. As of last weekend, Baca had deposited a total of $116,443 in political donations into his 5th District campaign fund. Flores had $312,966.39 in his campaign war chest, including a $15,000 loan to himself. Arrmendarez outperformed the others in terms of his fundraising effort, accumulating into his electioneering account $336,299.86, of which $91,076.83 was a loan to himself.
Renner banked, overall, $19,100 to carry out her campaign.