Political Notebook

Political handicappers already are weighing in on 2016 congressional races

It’s never too early, it seems, for handicapping the 2016 congressional elections. In fact, just a month after the 2014 elections wrapped up, two national prognosticators have already put out an early election line.

The Cook Political Report came out with its ratings last Friday and “Sabato’s Crystal Ball” — a national look at races published by University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato — put out its ratings earlier this month.

For those that follow central San Joaquin Valley politics, it’ll all look very familiar.

Both Cook and Sabato say that the 21st Congressional District, represented by Hanford Republican David Valadao, and the 10th Congressional District, represented by Turlock Republican Jeff Denham, “lean Republican.”

They also agree that the 16th Congressional District, represented by Fresno Democrat Jim Costa, is “likely Democrat.”

The rankings have “toss ups,” which are deemed the most competitive races. Next are “lean” for either the Republican or Democratic Party office holder. Finally there is “likely.”

Besides the three area districts, several others around California also made the list. Cook ranked six other races in the state as competitive, and Sabato seven. The rest of California’s congressional districts are considered safely in the hands of the incumbent, be they Republican or Democrat.

For the local districts, this is familiar territory.

Several months ago, the three Valley districts considered competitive to varying degrees were in the same positions — Valadao and Denham in the lean Republican category, and Costa in the likely Democratic column.

The Election Day reality, however, was quite different.

Valadao and Denham posted easy wins, and Costa almost lost. For that reason, some Valley political watchers are wondering how it is that Costa is once again considered likely to win reelection in 2016 if he runs again, while Valadao and Denham are considered to be in more competitive districts.

Quite likely, the answer at this early stage for Valadao and Costa is voter registration.

In Costa’s district, Democrats have an edge over rival Republicans of more than 15 points, which helps Costa, and in Valadao’s district Democrats have a similar advantage, which should hurt Valadao but so far hasn’t at all.