Political Notebook

Millennial Republican leaves Capitol Hill staff job to challenge Jim Costa

Elizabeth Heng
Elizabeth Heng LinkedIn

Rep. Jim Costa, the Fresno Democrat, will apparently have a challenger in 2018.

On Feb. 16, a campaign committee filed federal paperwork for California's 16th Congressional District. The candidate is listed as Elizabeth Heng, and the committee — Elizabeth Heng for Congress — lists a Fresno post office box address. The campaign has not filed any other documents.

Heng is also listed as a candidate in Fresno County election documents, as is a Green Party candidate named Richard Gomez.

The Bee tried to reach the treasurer named on the campaign's statement of organization, Thomas Datwyler, through his listed email address but was not successful. A call to a phone number listed for Heng in voter registration documents was also not immediately returned. Those documents say she is 33 and lives in Fresno.

According to LinkedIn, Heng worked for the House Foreign Affairs Committee from January 2013 until September. Prior to that, she was the director of congressional staff volunteers for President Donald Trump’s 2016 inauguration.

She also worked for the Republican National Committee and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, during the 2012 election.

Heng attended Stanford University, graduating in 2007 with degrees in political science and economics. She then opened up 15 mobile phone store franchises — something that she said led her to the Republican Party, as she hated the way that the California government and Obama administration did not support small businesses such as her family's.

In 2014, political website The Hill listed her as one of its 50 Most Beautiful congressional staffers. In that interview, the then-29-year-old lists her hometown as Fresno.

If Heng is in fact gearing up to challenge Costa, it sets up a contest of near-opposites. The Republican Stanford alum, a newcomer in her early 30s, would face the 66-year-old Fresno State graduate, who started a life in public service before Heng was born.

Costa is entering his 13th year in Congress. Although he leans more conservatively than most Democrats — he’s a co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition — Costa has had difficulty with traditional Republican challengers in midterm elections.

In 2014, the relatively unknown Johnny Tacherra lost by just over one percentage point — a mere 1,300 votes.

In 2010, before redistricting, future state Sen. Andy Vidak came within about 3,000 votes, or a little over three percentage points, of defeating the incumbent Costa.

However, Costa’s district was firmly behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2016. She received 57 percent of the vote to Trump’s 36.

It remains to be seen how, if any, Costa’s voting record in a turbulent 2017 will affect his support base. He publicly opposed both the Republicans' narrowly defeated and controversial health care bill and the tax reform bill, which passed by a slim margin.