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Democratic strategists on Wednesday put more serious muscle behind two Central Valley challengers to incumbents in the California congressional delegation.

In a move that opens up campaign pocketbooks, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee elevated former astronaut Jose Hernandez of San Joaquin County and physician Ami Bera of Sacramento County to the highest priority in the party's bid to reclaim the House.

"They are problem solvers," said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the committee's chairman. "Who can be more of a problem solver than an astronaut, who has to decide 'all systems are go.' "?

On Wednesday, Bera and Hernandez joined 16 other top-ranked Democrats on the party's designated first team of challengers, dubbed "Red to Blue" candidates for their potential to take back Republican seats.

Bera is challenging Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, and Hernandez is challenging Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater.


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