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Competitive Calif. District Drawing New Blood

Eric Paul Zamora/Associated Press
Rep. Jim Costa will run in the newly drawn 16th district, making way for some new blood.

Two rising stars in California's Central Valley are set to face off in an open district next year, as the parties battle for one of a handful of the state's newly competitive districts.

Redistricting and likely retirements have provided new opportunities for the next generation of politicians in the state, and nowhere is that more evident than the redrawn 21st district, which stretches from Bakersfield to Fresno.

State Sen. Michael Rubio (D) and state Assemblyman David Valadao (R) were born four months apart in 1977 and elected to the state Legislature for the first time in 2010. Now one of the two lifelong Central Valley residents is likely to head to Capitol Hill next year and lead the way for the forthcoming turnover in the state's aging delegation.

Rubio has signed up Richie Ross, one of the top Democratic consultants in the state, and California Democrats see big things for the telegenic and independent-minded Democrat.

"I presume he gets elected, and when he does, he's going to be an interesting force in D.C." Democratic consultant Paul Mitchell said. "I think he'll be our youngest, best-looking, most dynamic, most politically aggressive, most politically astute Member of Congress. If you look at how many of our current delegation are in their 70s and 80s, this guy's going to stand out."

(In fact, 15 of the 55-member California delegation fall into that category this year.)

In an interview, Rubio noted that he worked with four Republicans during his half-decade on the Kern County Board of Supervisors, a post that California insiders said was even more prominent than his current role in the state Legislature.

"When you look at our records, you will not find a more independent, moderate voice in the Legislature or local government than mine," Rubio said.

Rubio is waiting until the legislative year closes out to officially announce his candidacy, but he's filed as a candidate with the Federal Election Commission and visited Capitol Hill last month with his wife. Showing him around campus was Rep. Jim Costa (D), who currently represents much of the redrawn 21st district but will run in the new 16th district, where he lives, next year.

Costa's move predicates the likely retirement of Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D), Costa's good friend who also lives in the 16th, which was drawn more favorably for Democrats than the 21st.

"Dennis and I are good friends, we're political allies, we go back a long ways," Costa said in an interview Thursday just off the House floor, where he'd been sitting next to Cardoza and a few other Blue Dog Democrats during a series of votes.

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