Nearly two years of campaigning throughout California’s 10th Congressional District is coming to a close for both Rep. Jeff Denham and challenger Josh Harder as Tuesday’s midterm election nears, and the candidates are gearing up for what’s expected to be one of the closest races in the nation.
Millions of dollars have been spent in the high-profile competition between Denham and Harder, which since its beginning has been targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as part of their campaign to flip Republican-controlled districts over to Democrats. Commercials that call Harder a “shady” venture capitalist from the Bay Area and highlight Denham’s vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act have become mainstays on television, radio and the internet in the weeks leading up to the election, targeting voters’ emotions and making the two candidates’ final appeals to voters this weekend all the more important.
“I never expected this much money to come in,” Denham said from his house in Turlock on Thursday.
The incumbent, his wife Sonia and several campaign volunteers were meeting in the morning to knock on doors throughout his neighborhood, and will continue to do so throughout the weekend in what he described as a final push for support before the election.
“I mean, this was one of the most expensive races in the country two years ago, but it’s about double this time,” he said.
Two years ago, Denham was defending his seat in Congress for the third time against Democratic challenger Michael Eggman. During that campaign season Denham was a member of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Patriot Program, meant to protect vulnerable Republican incumbents heading into the 2016 election.
Denham ultimately defeated Eggman, but only after the two candidates raised a combined $5 million for the closely-watched race. This year, that number was blown out of the water.
Data from the Federal Elections Commission data shows that combined, the two candidates have raised $11.5 million in their campaigns. Harder’s campaign has raised $7.05 million — just over two percent of which has come from individuals in District 10, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics — and Denham has raised $4.4 million. About 18 percent of Denham’s donations have come from inside of District 10, CRP reported.
In independent spending, Republican groups, including the National Republican Congressional Committee, have dropped big bucks to defeat Harder, raising over $1.8 million. Organizations like Working America and Center for Voter Information have raised more than $49,000 to help stop Denham’s reelection.
Ads in support of Denham — and Denham himself — warn that Harder, who was born and raised in Turlock, values liberal Bay Area ideals over the Central Valley, as that’s where much of his funding and some of his volunteers come from. That’s simply not the case, he said from his Modesto campaign headquarters on Friday as he met with volunteers from Turlock, Oakdale and other District 10 cities — and yes, there were volunteers from the Bay Area on hand to help.
“I think we’re running on Central Valley issues and running a Central Valley campaign. I think Jeff Denham’s entire campaign strategy seems to be to go negative…they’re demonizing me everywhere they can,” Harder said. “It’s actually kind of shocking that their party controls the House, the Senate, the Presidency — every level of government in Washington — and yet they’re not spending an ounce of effort or a single dollar running on their record over the past two years.”
For Harder campaign volunteer Dona Varin of Turlock, it doesn’t matter where canvassers are from: flipping the House from red to blue is a cause that resonates with many, regardless of where they live, and those passionate about the issue who are living in San Francisco don’t have their own races to support.
“This is probably the most important midterm election I’ve ever been involved in and we all have a stake in this. Every single person in the United States has a stake in these elections, so no I don’t have a problem with Bay Area volunteers,” she said.
A major motivating factor inspiring many volunteers to get involved with Democratic campaigns throughout the country is President Donald Trump’s “rhetoric,” Varin added, and District 10 is no different. Denham hasn’t done enough to stand up to Trump, she said.
“(Trump) is slowly, bit by bit, trying to undo what this country is all about,” she said. “I think there are a lot of problems right now that need to be fixed and Denham has not answered those challenges.”
Denham doesn’t think it’s his place to do so, he implied, stating that he would rather focus on local issues. He’s worked to bring water storage to the area, he said, and has even succeeded in getting the Trump Administration to take action against the California State Water Resources Control Board, which is looking to enact a plan that would decimate the Valley’s water supply.
“They’ll try to send a national message here, but I’ve made it very clear in previous elections that I’ll work with whoever is in the Presidency,” Denham said. “It’s up to me to be a leader for this community to work with anybody that will help us go get water storage or infrastructure dollars, or fix some of the biggest challenges we have here.”
Denham’s group of campaign volunteers, while seemingly smaller than Harder’s, is made up of “almost all” local participants, he said, many of whom are young high school and college students. Some join the campaign and are unsure of whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, he added, but all share the same passion about topics like immigration, water and the overall economy.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to get involved on any campaign to really ask questions, be a part of something and really define what your political views are,” Denham said.
Those campaigning for Harder on Friday met at the candidate’s headquarters beforehand to go over topics important to voters, which included healthcare. Many took offense to Denham’s decision to vote for a repeal of the ACA in 2017, and look to spread the word while canvassing.
“The reality is 95 percent of our volunteers are working a campaign for the first time, and they feel the same way I did which is that things are broken and we all need to do our part to right the ship and fix it,” Harder said. “I think the issues at stake in this election are so visceral — if you have a daughter with diabetes, an uncle with cancer, then you are heartbroken and furious by a Congressman’s vote to take away protections for preexisting conditions.”
Denham said he still stands by his vote, and that the Republican health care bill he voted to support would provide better access to more, well-trained physicians in the Valley.
“Don’t just take my word for it, or all of the crazy things Josh Harder has to say about it. Talk to your doctors,” he said. “We want patients to be able to see the doctor they want to see when they want to see them…We’ve had a shortage of doctors for well over a decade. It’s not just about the Affordable Care Act. It’s getting doctors that are recruited here and who stay here.”
With just days until the election, both candidates can only be described as confident — and for good reason.
As of Oct. 30, race trackers “The Cook Political Report,” “Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales” and “Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball” all declared the race between Denham and Harder as a toss-up.
According to a late October poll conducted by The New York Times, Harder has a razor-thin lead over Denham by a margin of two percent. Of 501 respondents surveyed, 47 percent said they support Harder, while 45 percent support Denham. Eight percent said they are not sure which candidate they support.
It is worth noting, however, that several late October polls during the 2016 Denham/Eggman race of similar sample sizes stated that Eggman would emerge victorious.
“I expect it to be a big win,” Denham said, and later added that he expects results to be conclusive on Tuesday night. “I think you’re going to see some surprise across the country…ultimately, with the work we do here on the local level, I couldn’t feel more positive right now.”
Harder on Friday reflected on his first-ever campaign.
“I feel a deep sense of gratitude to all the people coming together to make this possible,” he said. “I think there are literally thousands of people throughout this community who share my values, who believe in a country that is much bigger than the one we see on cable news every single night and who are not content to sit on the sidelines but who are jumping in the arena and doing everything we can to fix it.”