Heath Flora appeared to beat Ken Vogel Tuesday in a bitter and rare general election race between two conservative Republicans for the 12th Assembly District.
Incomplete returns late Tuesday gave Flora 53 percent, to Vogel’s 47 percent.
If the lead holds, Flora would succeed Kristin Olsen, the former Modesto councilwoman who termed out of her Assembly post and will soon take a seat on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Modesto Bee
The outcome seemed to track with the presidential race, with voters rejecting an establishment figure in favor of an untried outsider.
Flora, 33, had never run for public office and is less than half the age of Vogel, who is 71 and has several decades of political experience. Vogel, a former San Joaquin County supervisor and longtime schools trustee, was endorsed by the local and state Republican Party, while Flora presented a new voice.
“I think voters are just looking for a change, a fresh face,” Flora said late Tuesday.
I think voters are just looking for a change, a fresh face.
Heath Flora, apparent assemblyman-elect
Fliers supporting Flora said it’s “time for fresh ideas in Sacramento” and bashed “Ken Vogel’s stale ideas.” They also said Vogel is “out of touch” and painted him as “just another wealthy politician out for himself.”
The two had battled in court in April, when Vogel convinced a judge to prevent Flora from using “farmer” as one of his occupations on the official ballot. Both men correctly identified the other as their main competition and emerged as the top vote-getters in the June primary, besting fellow Republican Cindy Marks and Democrats Virginia Madueño and Harinder Grewal.
Vogel raised more money than Flora: $348,747 to $286,177. But Republican leaders seemed happy at having secured a trustworthy conservative vote regardless of the outcome, and gave no money to Vogel’s campaign.
Meanwhile, outside spending groups dropped huge amounts to benefit Flora in the form of independent expenditures, which are not controlled by candidates, and none came forward to help Vogel. Such groups spent more than a half-million dollars promoting Flora or bashing Vogel, giving Flora double the exposure to voters.
Despite having less money, Vogel’s campaign struck back only last week with a flier calling Flora a liar, comparing “liberal Heath Flora” to Hillary Clinton and claiming that Flora “has sold out to big labor union bosses.”
It seemed too little, too late.
Flora, backed by public safety groups, also enjoyed big donations from labor unions who had no Democratic candidate to favor in this race. It was one of only four all-GOP contests among 100 this year for the California Legislature, and the other three attracted no independent expenditures.
Flora moved from Modesto to Ripon last year and fared much better in Stanislaus County, where two-thirds of 12th District voters reside. Vogel lives in Stockton.
The 12th Assembly District covers Turlock, Salida, Ripon, Manteca, Lathrop and part of Modesto, as well as eastern Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390