About this time two years ago, incumbent Democrat Jim Costa's relatively unknown Republican opponent came out of nowhere and turned a sleepy congressional race into a down-to-the-wire barn burner.
Hanford cherry farmer Andy Vidak fell short in his upset bid -- but just barely.
Now, Fresno attorney Brian Whelan, Costa's Republican opponent this time around, says history is poised to repeat itself, only with a better ending.
"You're going to see a similar wave of support coming late in the game," he said of his campaign. "It's on the way."
But a lot has changed since 2010, and it is widely believed that Costa is in a stronger position as he seeks his fifth term in Congress.
"The tea leaves just aren't lined up for (Whelan)," said Joel Nelsen, a Republican and president of the Exeter-based trade group California Citrus Mutual.
In a sign of the challenge Whelan faces, last month the Rothenberg Political Report -- a nonpartisan newsletter covering gubernatorial and federal campaigns -- took the Costa-Whelan race off its watch list.
Costa's biggest advantage may be redistricting.
His old 20th Congressional District ran from central Fresno south and included parts of Fresno and Kern counties and all of Kings County. He is keeping 23% of that old district -- mostly the heavily Democratic parts of Fresno that have long supported him -- in a new 16th District that includes about half the city of Fresno and then runs north, taking in part of Madera County and all of Merced County.
The heavily rural parts of Fresno and Kings counties where Costa had largely worn out his welcome -- the ABC (Anyone But Costa) signs still remain tacked to poles alongside country roads -- are gone.
Secondly, voter registration in the district is 47% Democrat to 32% Republican.
Also, several prominent locals in the business and agriculture fields say Costa has stepped it up politically after his close call.
"I think Jim, in the past year, really put things together, put his issues on paper and said, 'I'm going to focus on these,' " said Republican Manuel Cunha Jr., president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League.
At the same time, Whelan faces challenges that Vidak didn't.
For starters, there is the profile: Whelan is an attorney from urban Fresno; Vidak was a rural Kings County farmer, and that played well in the old 20th District.
Nelsen called Whelan a "nice young man, and he probably has a future, but I don't think anybody sees him as a viable candidate both from substance perspective and from the (voter) registration."
In addition, the national Republican Party has yet to promote Whelan to a level where he qualifies for money. Two years ago, Vidak used that springboard to tap into "Super PACs" that have become such an important part of the political process.
Michael Der Manouel Jr., chairman of the Lincoln Club of Fresno County and a Whelan supporter, said it is time the National Republican Congressional Committee moved Whelan from "contender" to the top level of its "Young Guns" program.
"He's earned the support of the NRCC, in my opinion," Der Manouel said. "I'm a little frustrated that they have not done more to recognize his efforts."
Costa has faced his share of criticism from agriculture, which dominates both his old district and the one that he now hopes to represent. Prominent supporters such as local businessman Bob Smittcamp -- who also farms -- jumped to Vidak two years ago after supporting Costa for several years.
Whelan touts his opposition to high-speed rail when he campaigns. Many in the ag community are opposed to HSR, too; Costa is a supporter.
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