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Many of California's vulnerable House members fundraising ahead of 2016

Most of California's vulnerable House members are bracing for 2016 challenges by building campaign war chests

Hoping to inoculate themselves against challenges next year, most of California's vulnerable House members already are building campaign war chests.

Quarterly fundraising reports filed with the Federal Election Commission provided an early glimpse of candidates' financial strength as they head toward the 2016 contests. Six Democratic incumbents whom Republicans are targeting for defeat all had six-figure campaign accounts by March 31.

Although the costs of hotly contested races often run into the millions, money shown early in a race — sometimes even before an opponent has materialized — can attract more donors, provide a head start in campaigning and scare off challengers.

The law allows candidates to keep and use funds left over from a previous congressional race.

Among those the National Republican Congressional Committee has on its target list are Democratic Reps. Scott Peters of San Diego and Ami Bera of Elk Grove. Both survived tight races that were among the costliest in the nation last year.

Peters had almost $344,000 on hand at the end of the quarter. Bera had nearly $353,000.

(Jacquie Atkinson, a Republican Marine Corps veteran from San Diego announced her challenge to Peters after the latest campaign reporting period had passed.)

Others are Rep. Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert, who reported more than $687,000 in his treasury, and Rep. Julia Brownley of Westlake Village, who staved off a strong GOP challenge in her Ventura County-based district last year, had $556,919.

In Northern California, Rep. John Garamendi of Elk Grove, who handily fended off a challenge last year, reported slightly more than $200,000.

In the Inland Empire, Rep. Pete Aguilar of Redlands, whose 2014 GOP opponent has announced he wants a rematch, had about $307,000. His Republican challenger, military veteran Paul Chabot of Rancho Cucamonga, reported slightly less than $35,000.

Among Republicans who are potentially vulnerable, Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock, in the Central Valley, reported $1.3 million in the bank. Another Central Valley GOP incumbent, Rep. David Valadao of Hanford, had $363,000.

Rep. Stephen Knight (R-Palmdale) appeared to be in the most precarious financial position of any vulnerable House member in California, his report indicated. Knight has raised just $40,800 since the campaign season began and had $29,000 in cash — and more than $52,000 in debt.

Democrats were quick to seize on his anemic finances: Knight represents a Republican-voting area with growing Democratic registration. A spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Thursday called Knight's fundraising "pathetic."

But Knight won his seat last year by a margin of 53%-47%, despite being outspent, $2 million to $400,000.

The reports also hinted at a likely rematch of one of last year's bloodiest fights between members of the same party.

Democrat Ro Khanna of Fremont, a former Obama administration official who narrowly lost to Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), has filed preliminary papers to run again. His report to the FEC showed he has raised more than $800,000, with more than $693,000 on hand.

Honda has almost $208,000.

jean.merl@latimes.com

Twitter:@jeanmerl

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