Political Notebook

Costa calls out Heng’s voting habits in TV ads. Republicans say it’s negative campaigning

Jim Costa puts Elizabeth Heng on a milk carton

A TV advertisement from Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, features Republican challenger Elizabeth Heng on a milk carton and calls out her voting record.
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A TV advertisement from Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, features Republican challenger Elizabeth Heng on a milk carton and calls out her voting record.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, began his 2018 campaign push with a bang this week, releasing two TV ads containing sharp criticism of Republican challenger Elizabeth Heng.

The advertisements accuse Heng of not voting in 10 of the last 19 elections in which she was eligible to vote. One features animations of Heng on a milk carton, while the other is Costa speaking directly to the camera about Heng.

Heng and the National Republican Congressional Committee called the advertisements “negative,” saying they betray Costa’s worry in the face of a strong candidate.

The Republicans pointed to a recent change from the election forecaster Cook Political Report, which moved the race from “safe Democrat” to “likely Democrat” this week. The analysis notes Costa has had close races in previous non-presidential election years (2010, 2014) and painted Heng as perhaps Costa’s best challenger to date who came within six points of him in the June primary. It also said a core Costa constituency, Latinos, tends to vote less in off-year contests.

“Do-nothing Congressman Costa has been in office longer than Elizabeth Heng has been alive, but his negative campaign demonstrates he has nothing to show for it,” NRCC spokesman Jack Pandol said. “The more Costa flails, the more Californians realize he’s an empty suit.”

A TV advertisement featuring Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, criticizes his opponent, Republican Elizabeth Heng, for failing to vote in 10 of the last 19 elections.

Heng’s campaign released several statements that echoed Pandol’s comments, adding that Costa had “witnessed the momentum behind our message, and knows it’s undeniable.”

In response, Costa said he works hard every day to “improve the lives of people in the Valley by creating jobs and building our water and transportation infrastructure.”

“It is inexcusable that my opponent wants to represent my home, yet she has failed to vote in 10 out of the last 19 elections where she was eligible,” Costa said.

The Republicans have not yet disputed the claims made in the advertisement. Costa’s campaign provided The Bee with the election documents from various secretary of state sources it used to research the ad, and it appears Heng did not return ballots in various elections from 2003-16.

The documents also show Heng was a registered Democrat from 2003-10. She switched to Republican in 2012. She recently told The Bee’s editorial board her switch was due to burdensome government regulations that negatively impacted her family’s businesses. Heng’s parents own a grocery store, and she owned a series of mobile phone stores along with her brother.

Heng’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the voting allegations.

The first-time candidate has routinely criticized Costa in her campaign advertisements and appearances, saying the incumbent has accomplished very little in his 14 years as a congressman and several decades in the state Legislature.

She also debuted a new TV ad this week, which shows Heng walking around in downtown Fresno’s Chinatown neighborhood.

“In the past 14 years, I worked my way through Stanford, I got my MBA from Yale and I helped start a major business,” Heng says in the ad. “In the same 14 years, Congressman Jim Costa has accomplished – well, look around.”

Rory Appleton: 559-441-6015, @RoryDoesPhonics