Cherry Farmer Schools GOP in Winning Hispanics

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In the New Testament, Jesus says, 'With God, all things are possible." Andy Vidak knows how true that is. He went from obscure cherry farmer to California state senator in a heavily Hispanic district against a Hispanic opponent.

"What a long strange trip it's been," Vidak said.

Vidak may look like a state senator when he takes the floor, but at heart, he's still a cherry farmer from the California's Central Valley.

He brings his lunch to work, wears his cowboy hat during off hours, and drives his faithful pickup truck, which has about 300,000 miles on it.

And please don't call him senator.

"I'm just Andy," he told CBN News.

Vidak enjoyed life as a farmer and rancher, but as time went on, he watched environmental policies devastate California's economy.

For example, farmers can only receive a small portion of water to protect fish.

"We've got some radical environmentalism that has pushed it too far, a long way too far when we start putting insects and plants and animals ahead of human beings," Vidak charged. "I just don't agree with those types of things."

'I Don't See Color'

So the question here is how did Vidak do it? How did he go from a cherry farmer, a pretty obscure one at that, all the way here to the state capitol?

He did it with the help from Hispanics in his district. But what really caught the nation's attention is that he won against a Hispanic woman in a district that's 60 percent Hispanic and heavily favors Democrats.

"I don't see colors," Vidak explained. "It was just about going and talking about common sense values. There are no party lines with common sense."

Nationally, the Republican Party is still trying to gain more of the Hispanic vote. As the Latino population increases its share of the electorate, their future votes are crucial to the GOP.

So what can they learn from Vidak's victory?

While it helped that Vidak speaks fluent Spanish, his working class roots, pro-family values and community involvement really cemented the bond. 

"I cooked menudo for 9 hours in 98 degree heat. But I went to that not because they were Hispanic but because there were 10,000 people there. You just have to go out and talk to folks. I don't ride a white horse. I'm not a silver bullet," he said.

That underscores a larger point: authenticity. Vidak didn't treat Hispanics as a political talking point -- something that couldn't be said about his opponent, Leticia Perez.

Perez received heavy criticism after attempting to attract churchgoers by using the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a campaign flier. The lesson: overtly political moves won't work with Latinos.

Then there is immigration, a position where Vidak showed compassion by embracing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

"I don't believe in breaking up families," Vidak said. "Folks have broken the law to come here but then there are a bunch of minors that came and had no choice in the matter and we have to look at that."

Faith in Christ

The lesson for the GOP: In addition to compassion, authenticity and a pro-family message, Vidak also knows his victory included one more vital element -- faith in Jesus Christ.

"I don't know how you can be a farmer and not have a lot of faith in God and know that He's in charge," Vidak told CBN News.

"You need to work as hard as you can and create all the opportunities you can, but at the same time there's a higher power," he continued. "Jesus Christ is my Savior and through that all things are possible and here I am in Sacramento."

According to Vidak, he's just a simple farmer, ready to do business.

"I come to Sacramento armed with a smile, a handshake and my common sense," he said.

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David Brody

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David Brody is an Emmy Award-winning veteran news journalist who has interviewed many prominent national figures during his career of nearly 25 years. Currently, David covers the White House and interviews national newsmakers across the country.  Follow David on Twitter @TheBrodyFile and "like" him at Facebook.com/TheBrodyFile.