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Harder readies to face Denham
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Democratic Congressional Candidate Josh Harder (pictured above at his election night party on Tuesday) will face off against incumbent Republican Congressman Jeff Denham on the November ballot. - photo by CANDY PADILLA / The Journal

A close contest to see who would run against incumbent Congressman Jeff Denham this fall came to end Friday afternoon as Republican Ted Howze conceded to Democrat Josh Harder for second place in the Congressional 10th District election.

The high-profile race was targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as part of their campaign to flip Republican-controlled districts over to Democrats, and following Harder’s victory this week, Denham will defend his incumbency against the blue wave for the fourth straight election.

Preliminary results from Election Day on Tuesday night immediately put Denham onto the November ballot with 38.3 percent of the vote in his favor, but whether it would be Harder or Howze joining him was yet to be seen. The two hopefuls were locked in what the California Secretary of State’s election results website classified as a “close contest” from Tuesday night up until Friday afternoon, when the results of another nearly 30,000 ballots were released.

While Howze had been holding out hope that late absentee ballots and day-of polls would work in his favor, Friday afternoon’s results showed that he trailed Harder by 2.7 percent of the vote in Stanislaus County.

In Stanislaus County and southern San Joaquin County, Harder had received a total of 15,545 votes as of Friday afternoon, compared to Howze’s 13,398.

Howze congratulated both Harder and Denham via Twitter Friday, stating that he looks “forward to sitting down with both men and hearing their plans to jumpstart economic investment in this Valley that my supporters and I love dearly.”

With Harder set to face off against Denham in the fall, it’s a tale that District 10 constituents know all too well.

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Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) will once again be defending his seat against a Democrat, this time fellow Turlock native Josh Harder. - photo by File Photo

In 2014, Denham defeated Democrat Michael Eggman — who also ran in Tuesday’s Primary Election but finished sixth in voting — by over 15,000 votes. The race was much closer in 2016 when Eggman and Denham met in the November election again, with Denham beating Eggman by just over four percent of the vote.

Democratic turnout in the 2018 Primary Election was much better than the 2016 Primary Election, however. In 2016, Democrats accounted for 42 percent of the vote versus Republicans’ 58 percent, but after Tuesday’s results, 52 percent of the vote came from Democrats while 48 percent of the vote was Republican.

Those numbers have Harder hoping for the best come November.

“It’s a very exciting time…those numbers show a real surge and enthusiasm,” he said.

The 12-point swing in Democratic vote share was the largest swing in any California district toward the Democratic Party, and the shift comes as support for Denham drops. The incumbent’s final tally of 35,150 votes accounted for just 37.8 of the total vote — the second-lowest of any incumbent from California’s 53 Congressional districts following Tuesday’s election.

“I think what we saw on Tuesday was a wholesale rejection of Jeff Denham…I mean, when 62 percent of voters vote for somebody else, that’s a terrifying sign if you’re him,” Harder said.

Howze attracted plenty of Republican and Independent votes away from Denham as well, which Harder sees as a potential advantage heading into November.

“What I’m hearing from the people who voted for Ted is that they’re frustrated with Denham on healthcare and immigration,” Harder said. “It shows a deep, bipartisan dissatisfaction with what he’s been up to, and that’s encouraging for us in November.”

Denham could not be reached for comment for this story by press time.