Costa leads in 16th District, but Whelan isn't giving up

jellis@fresnobee.comNovember 7, 2012 

Fresno Democrat Jim Costa is proving the pundits right as early returns show him leading in the race for the 16th Congressional District.

Costa is leading against Fresno Republican Brian Whelan in the newly drawn district. With 4.4 percent reporting, Costa has 53 percent of the vote to Whelan's 47 percent.

"We're feeling very good and confident about the absentees [ballots]," Costa said. If the trends continue, he said, "we expect to win by double-digit margins."

But Whelan is conceding nothing: "We are optimistic about being successful in this great election."

The race, to varying degrees, has been on the radar screens of political watchers locally and in Washington, D.C.

Costa was there early because of his narrow 2010 win over Hanford cherry farmer Andy Vidak. Republicans insisted he was vulnerable.

But that was in the old 20th Congressional District, which ran from central Fresno south to Bakersfield, and included parts of Kern and all of Kings County.

Costa's new 16th District includes heavily Democratic parts of Fresno, as well as the western half of Madera County and all of Merced County.

In addition to the new district, which has a 15 percentage-point Democratic voter registration advantage, Costa was able to mend fences with some Republicans, especially in agriculture, who were angry at some of his votes.

All that might be enough to propel Costa to victory.

Also helping: Whelan's campaign wasn't able to catch on with national Republicans. He made contender status with the National Republican Congressional Committee's "Young Guns" program, but was never able to reach the top rung, which brings with it campaign funds.

Because of that, pundits said the 16th District was no longer competitive as September moved to October.

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