Democrat Jim Costa has defeated Republican Elizabeth Heng in the 16th Congressional District, which includes much of the city of Fresno and parts of Fresno, Madera and Merced counties.
Costa had 44,769 votes to Heng’s 37,480 (54 percent to 46 percent) with all precincts reporting.
At Heng’s election party in downtown Fresno, about a dozen people huddled around a TV watching election updates.
At 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, Heng conceded and released this statement:
“My campaign was not for myself, but for the people of this Valley, because I believed – and still believe – that we deserve better solutions to the issues we face. We’ve fought a hard battle this election season, but the fight does not stop here. We cannot give up the battle for water, better healthcare, or for real solutions to immigration. I can not thank enough the supporters who stood beside me during my campaign. The success I had during my run was because of the people who believed in opportunity for the Valley and the American Dream.”
Heng left her job as a congressional staffer to return home and challenge the 66-year-old Costa, a 14-year incumbent. It was the first political race for the 33-year-old. Both candidates are from Fresno.
Costa, who served in the state Legislature for more than two decades before being elected to Congress, has struggled in the previous two midterm elections, starting slow at first before widening his lead as the uncounted mail and provisional ballots are recorded in succeeding days.
In 2014, Costa escaped Republican dairyman Johnny Tacherra’s challenge by less than 2 percentage points. He trounced Tacherra in the 2016 general election, which rallied Democrats eager to vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In 2010, Costa beat now-state Sen. Andy Vidak, a Republican, by just over 3 percent.
The latest voter registration figures for the district were 44 percent Democrat, 25 percent Republican and 31 percent no-party preference.
The two candidates have led a relatively civil campaign, appearing at several local candidate forums and participating in two televised debates.
This was largely due to Costa’s relaxed campaigning style, as Heng has gone for blood through nearly around-the-clock social media attacks and progressively nasty campaign ads – including one featuring a Costa lookalike wearing high-heeled boots referred to as “(House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi’s shoes.”
Costa fought back at times, digging up Heng’s spotty voting record and attempting to portray her as a Washington insider and blind Trump supporter. But he mostly stuck to his record – specifically funding procurements for major water, highway, education and veterans projects across the central San Joaquin Valley.
Heng did what she could to poke holes in this record, saying Costa’s inaction was at fault for the Valley’s continued water, immigration and education problems.
Costa raised about $1.57 million to Heng’s $1 million as of mid-October.
With Democrats gaining control of the House, Costa could be in line for committee and sub-committee chairmanships. He is the third-ranking member on both the Natural Resources and Ag committees, so chairmanship is unlikely there. But he may chair the Water, Power and Oceans subcommittee, as well as the Livestock and Foreign Ag subcommittee.