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Candidates stepping forward to challenge Denham in 2018
Dotty Nygard
Dotty Nygard - photo by Photo Contributed

Though it may seem like the 2018 election is far away, local campaigns are already up and running. So far, two Democrats have thrown their hats into the ring to challenge Congressman Jeff Denham next year, while one familiar face in Central Valley politics is still on the fence about running to represent California’s 10th Congressional District.

Former Riverbank Mayor Virginia Madueno is considering running to represent the district, she said, but her loss in the race for State Assembly last November (she finished third in voting, behind Ken Vogel and current State Assemblyman Heath Flora) took its toll. Meanwhile, Josh Harder, a Turlock native and investor and Dotty Nygard, a nurse from Tracy and former Riverbank City Council member, have both announced bids for the upcoming election.

The race promises to be a tight, contentious competition, as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is looking to unseat over 60 Republicans next year – seven of which are Californians, including Denham. After Denham defeated challenger Michael Eggman last year despite an excess of funding from the DCCC, the committee has refocused their efforts on California’s 10th District, naming it as one of the seven Republican-held areas in the state that they plan to target.

Harder, a vice president in Bessemer Venture Partners’ San Francisco office where he focuses on investments that aid small businesses, grew up in Turlock and recently moved back to the district after seeing a “disconnect” between Denham’s policies and those who live in the Central Valley. Denham’s recent vote on the GOP’s health care bill was a prime example of that disconnect, said Harder.

“I definitely would not have voted yes. I’m all for making some common-sense reform to health care to make sure folks can really get the care we need, but 40 to 50 percent of the Valley is on Medi-Cal,” said Harder. “It’s ludicrous and cruel that he would do that, and that’s why I want to run and change it.”

During his time as a student at Modesto High School, Harder served as an intern for Denham while the future Congressman served on the State Assembly. He has helped out on Democrat campaigns as well, including Hilary Clinton’s recent bid for the White House. The experiences have helped him learn how politics work, and now he hopes to create his own successful campaign in an attempt to make the voices of District 10’s constituents heard in the House of Representatives.

“I want to look at how we can align what is pragmatic for us in this region, and then bring that back and put it to use in Washington,” said Harder.

Some of Harder’s top priorities for the district include economic development, health care and comprehensive immigration reform.

“I want to work on bringing (immigrants) out of the shadows,” said Harder. “It’s a major economic issue here in the Valley.”

While Harder knows it will be a tough fight to win the district, he hopes to connect with the Central Valley on a personal level and win their votes the right way – through his word.

“A lot of people are fed up, and I think what we need is someone who is rooted here locally and understands the values around here,” said Harder. “It’s about trying to branch out and make sure we meet with everybody in the area who can get excited about this. The grassroots activism here is phenomenal, and we need to channel that in the next direction, which is firing Jeff Denham.”

Nygard, an emergency room nurse at Sutter Tracy Community Hospital, is a Progressive candidate who is passionate about issues like climate change, water, immigration and health care. Her 30-year career in the emergency field has prepared her to be an advocate for the community, she said.

“I think we need to bring some caring back to the community,” said Nygard. “It’s been missing and silent, and I think I can be a voice to bring the compassion back.”

She is a strong supporter of Senate Bill 562, which aims to bring a single-payer health care system to California, and believes climate change is a devastating issue, especially in the Central Valley where there is a record number of asthma cases. Another priority for Nygard is developing a comprehensive immigration package that expedites a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Nygard has taken her experience as both a nurse and a city council member and combined them into a campaign she believes can win. The district, which at the moment seems politically divided much like the rest of the nation, not only needs a caring voice at the forefront of its leadership, but, perhaps, one that is female.

“At this time and age, women do need to have a stronger voice. There are so many issues that are threatening the health and integrity of women,” said Nygard. “This is going to be a crucial race to be an advocate for women…I don’t want us going backwards. I think we need to prevail and go forward.”

Another woman who could be the district’s next female leader is Madueno, who initially said “no” to questioners wondering if she would join the Congressional race. But, as both local and national organizations reached out to her, expressing interest in supporting her as a candidate, Madueno began to reconsider.

“I got a call from a colleague who is part of a political PAC in Washington, and was told that my name was circulating among groups out there,” said Madueno. “I was told if I was going to run, I needed to start getting ready.”

Since then, Madueno has been on a self-described “listening tour,” attending protests, town halls and other events throughout the district to hear firsthand from constituents what they believe to be the most pressing issues in the area. Of course, health care has been on the forefront of everyone’s minds, and the recent vote on the issue in the House made Madueno consider running more than ever.

She can relate to those crying for help in lieu of the vote, she said, as someone who was unable to be insured for four years due to her pre-existing condition. Eventually, she was able to get health care thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

“I was treated like a second-class citizen, and when I got health care through the Affordable Care Act it was wonderful,” said Madueno. “I know what these people are sharing because I can totally relate.”

Madueno is a Democrat, however, she is not a “flaming left field Democrat,” she said.

“I’m a middle of the road moderate, and I think that’s what the area needs,” said Madueno. “California is changing, and the Central Valley is changing.”

Madueno hopes to make a decision on whether or not to run for Congress by July, she said. Overcoming her fears of loss after coming up short in last year’s State Assembly election will play a big factor in her decision, as will whether or not she can gather up enough funding to make a push for the seat.

“This is the Assembly race times 25,” she said. “It’s one thing to say, ‘I’m going to run,’ but really, it’s about how viable you are.”

If she runs, top priorities for Madueno would include small business development, immigration and health care. Though she knows the DCCC plans to back the most viable candidate, the area needs a candidate that has the support of the community – not Washington.


“All I see right now is division. I want to work to bring people together,” said Madueno. “When I see our Congressman, it doesn’t even seem like people are listening to him anymore. He’s lost trust and credibility, and when the community doesn’t back its representative, we all suffer.”