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Outside money turns California House race competitive

Six months ago, Andy Vidak was a lonely campaigner.

The Hanford cherry farmer seemed to be on a quixotic quest to oust three-term incumbent Democrat Jim Costa. With little name identification, he was driving the 20th Congressional District alone in his 2002 Ford F250, talking to any group that would have him. When House Republican leader John Boehner visited Fresno last month, he didn't even meet with Vidak.

Suddenly, that's all changed.

In the past few weeks, the contest has turned competitive. The national parties and outside interest groups are now spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on direct mail and TV and radio ads.

"I've been saying all along that we're going to peak at the right time," Vidak said Thursday.

Two conservative groups — the Center for Individual Freedom and Americans For Limited Government — have spent close to $325,000 in the past week attacking Costa, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Almost all of that cash is from the ultra-conservative Center for Individual Freedom, which has been burning up the airwaves with a commercial tying Costa to President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and claiming he voted "to increase the national debt limit by trillions of dollars."

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee responded earlier this week by producing a television commercial and buying broadcasting time totaling $40,000. It followed that three days later with a $115,320 media buy, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Taken together, that's about $155,000 in Democratic television advertisements that attack Vidak.

Despite the rapidly increasing intensity level, several national political prognosticators are still saying it is Costa's race to lose.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, whose "Crystal Ball" website tracks political races, rates the 20th District seat as "likely Democrat." The Cook Political Report and the New York Times show the race as "leaning Democratic."

Sabato and Cook, however, have moved the race to a more competitive position than their rankings showed earlier this month.

"The Republicans sense an opportunity to broaden the playing field in a very favorable political environment, and Costa's seat is an example," Sabato said.

Read more of this story at FresnoBee.com

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