Politics & Government

Republican money pouring into California Central Valley race

WASHINGTON — Republicans are voting with their dollars in the San Joaquin Valley, where Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, is now getting a run for his money.

Challenger Andy Vidak in recent days has proven notably successful in collecting money from Costa's GOP House colleagues. The contributions show that Republicans consider Vidak a viable contender.

In the last week alone, the Hanford-area cherry farmer reported raising $120,000. This includes contributions from 18 of Costa's Republican congressional colleagues, Federal Election Commission records show.

"It tells me they know what we know, that Jim (Costa) is in trouble," Vidak's chief of staff, Rudy Mendoza, said Friday. "This is a race to the finish line."

During the same last-minute rush over the past week, Costa reported raising $80,200. This includes contributions from 21 of his Democratic congressional colleagues.

Tracking the money from political pros helps show which races are considered cutting edge and which are not. Republican Mike Berryhill, for instance, has not collected any money from GOP lawmakers over the past week to bolster his faltering challenge to Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, in the 18th Congressional District.

The past week's contributions build upon the last major fundraising reports, which covered money collected as of Oct. 13. Those reports, too, showed Vidak and Costa in a highly competitive race.

As of Oct. 13, Vidak reported having $151,856 available and campaign debts of $18,868. Costa reported having $162,296 available and campaign debts of $75,000.

Many post-Oct. 13 contributions into the 20th Congressional District race come from so-called leadership political action committees. These are set up by lawmakers who distribute funds under such stirring names as the Eye of the Tiger PAC and the Growth & Prosperity PAC.

These latter two were established by Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., and Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., respectively. Both are among Vidak's recent contributors.

Agricultural PACs that have financially backed Costa in the past, including those representing the cotton-growing giant J.G. Boswell Co. and the California Grape and Tree Fruit League, also have recently put money into Vidak's campaign. Costa is still pulling in other big farm contributions, from local growers as well as national groups like the Associated Milk Producers and the National Turkey Federation.

Outside groups are making their own investments in the congressional district that includes all or portions of Kings, Fresno and Kern counties.

On Tuesday, a Republican political funding group called American Crossroads GPS reported paying a whopping $337,825 for a package of anti-Costa ad buys. Founded with the help of former Bush administration political guru Karl Rove, American Crossroads GPS is set up under a provision of tax law that does not require publication of its donors.

Costa, too, is getting outside help. In the last week, Federal Election Commission records show, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee paid $365,349 for anti-Vidak ads.

The Democratic investments are both good news and a sobering reminder for Costa. The ads will help undermine his opponent, but the last-minute Democratic helping hand exemplifies party anxieties about a coming Republican wave.

Many political analysts predict Republicans will gain the 39 seats needed to reclaim control of the House of Representatives. The GOP surge threatens to swamp even some hidebound Democratic districts.

By the numbers, the 20th Congressional District should be reliably Democratic. Democrats hold a 51-to-31 percent voter registration advantage.