Like the set piece battles of World War I, where huge armies fought over territory of little value, California legislative elections have become wars between interest groups with little concern for voters or the actual candidates. No better example exists than the special election in Fresno and Bakersfield for the 16th Senate district between Democrat Leticia Perez and Republican Andy Vidak.

This special became necessary when Democratic Sen. Michael Rubio resigned his seat last spring to take a job with Chevron. This put at risk a safe Democratic Senate district, and that risk was exacerbated when Sacramento Democrats were forced to choose Kern County Supervisor Perez, unknown in most of the district, as their candidate while Republicans got a candidate in Vidak who had previously run in much of this territory.

Rubio, who had caused the problem by resigning, was then “induced” to arrange a $100,000 independent expenditure from Chevron on Democrat Perez’ behalf, a surprise to many observers since oil companies are the Great Satans of the Democratic Party that wants to impose an oil severance tax on them.

This tax was defeated some years ago when it appeared on the ballot, but now Democrats have enough votes to pass it in the legislature or put it on the 2014 ballot. It can be written so that there is no impact on gas prices and if it appears on the 2014 ballot it will likely pass.

So Chevron is desperate to stop this tax and has decided making nice with the Democrats via the $100,000 for Perez was the way to do it. They know they need not worry about the Republicans who would not dare vote for taxing big oil because the right wing bloggers and anti-tax activists would yell and scream at them, and Republican legislators cannot take that. So having the Republicans safely in their back pocket, Chevron decided it was time to elect a Democrat. Their $100,000 was just enough to keep Vidak from winning the whole race in the primary where he was only 200 votes short of outright victory.

But now enter the California Association of Realtors. Last year they supported a Democratic priority bill on real estate transfer taxes, but this year decided to oppose the same bill. That outraged Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg, and he double joined this bill to one the realtors really want. They were furious, and what better way to show their displeasure than dump money into the 16th Senate special election, but on the side of Vidak, which they have now done to the extent of $500,000 with possibly more to come.

This half a million is coming in the form of precinct walkers in the district for Vidak and comparison mailers that Steinberg has denounced as a “vitriolic and highly partisan smear campaign against Perez.”

In the midst of this the two candidates, and the district’s voters, are like the French poilu, not very important. Chevron cannot afford for Perez to lose; it desperately needs Democratic help to kill the oil severance tax. The realtors cannot afford Vidak to lose since they are now the biggest funders of his campaign, and they have launched a war with Steinberg and his caucus.

In the end, neither money nor party label may decide this contest, but rather race. The district was carefully drawn in 2001 to be a Latino seat by combining disparate Latino neighborhoods through hooks and long fingers. The district is 53.5 percent Latino by voter registration, and in the primary the Perez campaign helped turn out Latino voters by insisting that the great Mexican religious icon, Our Lady of Guadalupe, was rooting for a Perez win.

In the runoff, the Perez campaign is hoping that the toxic Republican brand among Latino voters will be enough to turn out more Latinos than Anglos and thus deliver a victory to Perez, while Vidak is hoping for the opposite.

In Mexican churches it is common to see statues weeping tears of blood, in the style of Old Spain. The question in this race is who will wipe away the tears of the interest group that ends up losing.