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Debate provides heated discussion despite lack of crowd
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For the first and only time before voters make their decision come Nov. 3, incumbent Congressman Josh Harder and his Republican challenger Ted Howze made their case for representing District 10 during the Journal’s livestreamed debate Wednesday night — without any interruptions or uninvited flying insects.

Although civil in nature compared to the most recent debates televised nationwide, the Congressional District 10 Debate between Harder and Howze saw both candidates question the other’s integrity while agreeing on very little. There was no crowd to cheer on either candidate during these tense moments, as the debate was held in the Journal’s downtown office with just Harder, Howze, their campaign aides and the Journal editorial staff due to COVID-19.

District 10 viewers had the opportunity to watch the debate in real time on both YouTube and Facebook, and supporters of both campaigns gathered in front of the office prior to the event to rally for their respective candidates.

Harder is seeking his second term in Congress after flipping District 10 from red to blue in 2018 when he defeated then-Congressman Jeff Denham. Howze, a former Turlock City Councilmember, is running for Congress for the second time following his 2018 candidacy which saw him place third in the primary behind Denham and Harder.

As was the case with the 2018 race between Harder and Denham, the election for District 10 this year promises to be another close contest. While Harder, a Democrat, received the most votes following the 2020 primary election with 44.1 percent, Republicans grabbed just over half of the overall vote. Currently, however, the race between Harder and Howze is rated as "likely Democratic" by The Cook Political Report and "safe Democratic" according to Inside Elections and Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

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Incumbent Congressman Josh Harder and Republican challenger Ted Howze met for their first and only debate at the Turlock Journal office Wednesday, which had no audience and was livestreamed due to the coronavirus pandemic - photo by KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal
Answering questions from the Journal editorial staff and the community, the two candidates on Wednesday night touched on topics ranging from pandemic response and racial tensions to financial aid for college and Social Security.

The latter of these topics brought up the first clash of the night, when Harder reminded viewers of a podcast interview where Howze suggested raising the retirement age as part of a long list of potential Social Security fixes. Harder’s campaign had previously used the podcast clip in a campaign ad targeting Howze, in addition to a sound bite of the Republican candidate calling Medicare “a nightmare,” to which Howze objected.

On Wednesday, Howze reiterated that he does not want to raise the retirement age and would like to see Medicare’s “feed for service” model fixed to increase its longevity. The conversation even continued into the next question, a pre-recorded video from Legacy Health Endowment President and CEO Jeffrey Lewis, who asked about long term care costs for seniors.

“It’s not me saying you want to cut Social Security and raise the retirement age on Social Security until 70. That stuff, you said. It’s on the record...the flip flopping can be a little bit dizzying for those of us that are watching your campaign, but the results stand,” Harder said. “It can be hard to know if you’re lying then or lying now, but the results are pretty clear that Social Security and Medicare would not be protected if you are elected to Congress.”

Howze defended his statements as an “honest discussion.”

“You know, you’re the most disingenuous kind of politician because you can’t even have an honest discussion about any issue for fear that it may come back to be used against you in a campaign,” Howze told Harder. “I’m willing to go and sit in front of people and have honest discussions about all options on the table. That doesn’t mean you’re committed to destroying a program.”

Later in the debate, a question about immigration turned into a back-and-forth about campaign endorsements between the two candidates.

When asked whether or not they support extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals legislation, which provides protections for “Dreamers” brought over the border as by their parents as children, Howze stated that the status of all Dreamers who have registered with the program should be frozen until comprehensive immigration reform is passed, and then they should be given ample time to apply for citizenship — the same position he took when running in 2018.

Harder co-sponsored and voted for the DREAM Act, he said, which would provide protections for Dreamers. Then, he brought up screenshots of posts allegedly from Howze’s social media accounts which compare Dreamers to pedophiles, criminals and foreign invaders.

It was the first mention of the posts during the debate, which earlier this year cost Howze national and state GOP support. Howze was removed from the National Republican Congressional Committee's “Young Guns” program, and he was publicly rebuked by California Republican Party Chair Jessica Patterson and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

When the posts, which also disparaged Black and Muslim communities, became public, Howze stated that he did not author the posts and that his account had been hacked. He also denounced the verbiage used in the posts in a statement to the Journal earlier this year.

“We did no such thing Josh, and you know it,” Howze said of the posts during the debate. “Good for you and your Democratic operatives for digging up a hacked twitter account that you want to make hay out of...We’ll make no defense of it. It wasn’t my words. We’ve said that over and over again. I love that you rotate right around to every attack because you have no other path to victory than to attack us and it shows.”

Howze asked Harder to look at his endorsements from 10 local mayors as proof of his support. Harder told Howze that he had released local officials from their endorsements, therefore he had none, and went on to say that Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra, Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu and Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow had all rescinded their endorsements.

Howze requested a second rebuttal during the question, which was still supposed to be about DACA, stating that Harder “outright lied.” Vierra had not rescinded his endorsement, Howze said, nor had Cantu.

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Incumbent Congressman Josh Harder and Republican challenger Ted Howze met for their first and only debate at the Turlock Journal office Wednesday, which had no audience and was livestreamed due to the coronavirus pandemic - photo by KRISITNA HACKER / The Journal
After the debate, Mayor Vierra took to Facebook to address the confusion.

“Listening to the 10th District Congressional debate last night, I was taken aback hearing Josh Harder bring up my name? I continue to fully support Ted Howze for Congress because he has proven he has the experience and leadership ability to deliver results for our Valley,” Vierra wrote. “I wanted to  set the record straight and I look forward to Ted Howze representing the Valley in Congress.”

While Mayor Cantu also tweeted words of endorsement and support for Howze following the debate, he had previously tweeted the response “Done.” on May 21 to an activist account requesting he rescind his endorsement of Howze over the alleged social media posts. In addition, Howze did announce that he was releasing “all local officials from their endorsements to stop these bullying attacks on them” on May 21 and deleted the “endorsements” page from his website that same day. Sometime prior to the debate, the page was added again to his website.

In a statement, Harder’s campaign manager Sam Signori said the Congressman mentioning Vierra was a mistake.

"It's hard to keep track of which Republicans have pulled their endorsements of Ted — because so many were embarrassed to be associated with him. Ted also ‘released’ all of his endorsers and hid the endorsement page on his website until the debate,” Signori said. “Glad it's now public again so people can see Chris Vierra supports Ted's bigoted beliefs and conspiracy theories."

The debate wasn’t all he said, he said — both candidates agreed more needs to be done to provide financial assistance and trade school options to students, and that changes to the way policing is done can bring about more trust within communities, whether it be through Harder’s ideas of reform of Howze’s support of increased training.

The issues were discussed, like homelessness in District 10 and in Turlock. Howze would like to see quality-of-life laws enforced again in order to fix the area’s “criminal vagrancy problem,” while Harder argued mental health and substance abuse issues should be addressed.

The two got into a bit of a spat over water (specifically, the pronunciation of Del Puerto Water District General Manager Anthea Hansen’s name) and whether or not Harder’s water bill is actually providing funding for water storage projects like the Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir Project — a proposal Howze adamantly opposes.

The candidates were also asked about climate change, bringing tech jobs to the Valley, COVID-19 and healthcare, giving viewers an hour and 15 minutes of debate which will help them decide who to vote for in less than a month. Currently, the debate is available on the Turlock Journal website for viewing for those who would like to see the discussion in full.