Harder and Den­ham— a fight to the fin­ish

The Modesto Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY GARTH STAPLEY gsta­p­ley@mod­bee.com

Den­ham or Harder? If you live in the 10th Dis­trict and haven’t yet de­cided — de­spite the end­less bar­rage of tele­vi­sion ads and cam­paign pieces crammed in your mail­box — you could be in the mi­nor­ity.

“Peo­ple have picked a side, whether or not they’re will­ing to pub­licly say it,” Keith Smith, an as­so­ciate po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor with Stock­ton’s Univer­sity of the Pa­cific, said in an in­ter­view.

What makes him think that?

Just look at those com­mer­cials and mail­ers. The ma­jor­ity, by far, are neg­a­tive hit pieces meant to stir emo­tion. Such are aimed at mo­bi­liz­ing a can­di­date’s own base, as op­posed to try­ing to win over the few un­de­cid­eds left in this race, widely re­garded as among the most com­pet­i­tive House con­tests in the United States.

Un­de­cid­eds might even be turned off enough to tune out and not vote. And that would be fine with strate­gists on either side.

“The logic of neg­a­tive cam­paign­ing is un­for­tu­nately solid,” Bob Benedetti, a Sacra­mento State Univer­sity re­search as­so­ciate, said in an in­ter­view. “It sup­presses the mid­dle, and fires up the two bases.”

Re­lent­less ads por­tray Jeff Den­ham, the Repub­li­can in­cum­bent, as un­car­ing about pre-ex­ist­ing med­i­cal con­di­tions and more in­ter­ested in en­rich­ing his cronies. Oth­ers

cast Demo­cratic chal­lenger Josh Harder as a lib­eral aligned with Nancy Pelosi and the Bay Area. Both sides have mocked the other, Pho­to­shop­ping their op­po­nent’s faces into em­bar­rass­ing, car­toon­ish scenes.

Most are bankrolled by either party or po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees. The GOP’s goal is to re­tain con­trol of the House, de­spite a his­toric trend dis­fa­vor­ing the pres­i­dent’s party in midterm elec­tions, while Democrats hope to ride a blue wave Nov. 6.

The ads, as well as tweets, news re­leases and other com­mu­ni­ca­tion, have re­sorted to name­call­ing. Den­ham even called his op­po­nent “Bay Area Harder” in Septem­ber de­bates; Harder, who ini­tially re­ferred to his op­po­nent as “do-noth­ing Den­ham,” lately has been us­ing “dis­ap­point­ing Den­ham.”

One thing we haven’t seen much of in this race: Trump bash­ing. Harder of­ten says that Den­ham sides with GOP poli­cies in al­most all of his con­gres­sional votes. But Harder largely has avoided evok­ing the pres­i­dent, and there is a strate­gic rea­son for it.

“There will be some Trump peo­ple who Harder doesn’t want to an­tag­o­nize,” Benedetti said. “Just by men­tion­ing Trump, you em­bolden his sup­port­ers (to de­fend him at the polls).”

The non­stop ads and mail­ers are costly, of course. It’s in­ter­est­ing to note how much money the can­di­dates have raised for their cam­paigns — Den­ham: $4.5 mil­lion; Harder $ 7 mil­lion — but it’s not en­tirely help­ful be­cause both par­ties and wealthy PACs are pour­ing mil­lions more into the hard-fought race.

“Both sides have lots of money, big war chests, and they’re spend­ing it,” said Larry Given­ter, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity, Stanis­laus, in Tur­lock, the city claimed by both can­di­dates as their home base.

Are power bro­kers fi­nally giv­ing the North­ern San Joaquin Val­ley the at­ten­tion it de­serves?

Not ex­actly. It’s more a num­bers game; Democrats need to flip 24 seats to re­gain con­trol of the House, and they long ago de­cided that Harder rep­re­sents one of their best chances. Vot­ers in the 10th Dis­trict — Stanis­laus County, and the south part of San Joaquin County — fa­vored Demo­cratic can­di­dates Barack Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton in the last two pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

Lati­nos make up about 45 per­cent of the dis­trict’s pop­u­la­tion, and they typ­i­cally fa­vor Democrats. But Den­ham has blunted that edge, ap­peal­ing to many Latino vot­ers in past elec­tions; he speaks Span­ish, and his wife is Latina.

Val­ley farm­ers also need mi­grants for field­work. For per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, Den­ham went out a limb ear­lier this year, de­fy­ing his party lead­ers with an at­tempt to force House vot­ing on im­mi­gra­tion re­form. It didn’t work, but it’s not clear whether peo­ple view the ef­fort as a big fail­ure, as Harder con­tends, or a good try, as Den­ham prefers to think of it.

Trump handed Den­ham two wa­ter vic­to­ries in the past two weeks, with a pres­i­den­tial mem­o­ran­dum seen as help­ful to thirsty Cal­i­for­nia farm­ers and then sign­ing Den­ham leg­is­la­tion pro­vid­ing fund­ing for wa­ter projects. Sup­port­ers beamed with pride, while de­trac­tors saw photo ops cal­cu­lated for max­i­mum po­lit­i­cal gain just be­fore the midterms.

Den­ham, 51, owns a Sali­nas-based com­pany that pro­vides farms with plas­tic con­tain­ers. His fam­ily lives near Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and they own a home in Tur­lock and a small al­mond or­chard in At­wa­ter. He is an Air Force vet­eran and rep­re­sented this area in the state Se­nate be­fore his elec­tion to Con­gress in 2010.

Harder, mean­while, has closed out the last of his 16 town halls in 16 weeks. They’re meant to con­trast with Den­ham’s re­luc­tance to host meet­ings open to all with ques­tion-an­swer pe­ri­ods. Harder’s last town hall drew in­ter­rupt­ing heck­lers.

Harder, 32, has never held elec­tive of­fice and rarely voted be­fore de­cid­ing to run for Con­gress. He was a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist in Bos­ton, New York City and San Fran­cisco be­fore re­turn­ing to the Val­ley to teach busi­ness at Modesto Ju­nior Col­lege.

Harder fin­ished ahead of five other Demo­cratic can­di­dates in the June Pri­mary, in­clud­ing Michael Eg­gman, who had lost to Den­ham in 2014 and 2016. The com­bined pri­mary vote for Democrats came to 47.9 per­cent, while Den­ham and fel­low Repub­li­can Ted Howze (who came in third) com­bined for 52.1 per­cent.

A few weeks ago, the Den­hams cel­e­brated their 25th wed­ding an­niver­sary, and Harder mar­ried his long­time girl­friend. The op­po­nents con­grat­u­lated each other in so­cial me­dia.

Den­ham and Repub­li­cans note that most of Harder’s cam­paign money comes from the Bay Area, and have char­ac­ter­ized him as too lib­eral for the Val­ley. Harder and Democrats point out that most of Den­ham’s cam­paign money comes from cor­po­rate PACs and spe­cial in­ter­ests, and they ac­cuse him of break­ing promises to con­stituents here with his votes in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., par­tic­u­larly re­gard­ing health care and the GOP’s at­tempts to dis­man­tle the Af­ford­able Care Act.

More ev­i­dence that Harder-Den­ham is a big deal: polling, and ex­perts weigh­ing in.

The lat­est poll, by the New York Times, was com­pleted late Thurs­day and sug­gests a near-dead heat, pre­dict­ing that Harder could get 47 per­cent of the vote, and Den­ham 45 per­cent, while ac­knowl­edg­ing a 4.9-per­cent mar­gin of er­ror that ren­ders mean­ing­less any per­ceived ad­van­tage.

Times poll­sters, work­ing with Siena Col­lege, called 25,803 peo­ple in the 10th Dis­trict to get 501 re­spon­dents. In ad­di­tion to its bot­tom-line pre­dic­tion, the sur­vey presents six al­ter­na­tive sce­nar­ios, each weighted dif­fer­ently to de­pict what might hap­pen based on ac­tual turnout. Den­ham would barely win in two of those sce­nar­ios, which as­sume that the same types of peo­ple who voted in 2014 and 2016 show up again this year. Harder would pre­vail un­der the other sce­nar­ios us­ing other meth­ods to guess who is likely to vote.

A poll in late June by Garin-Hart-Yang Re­search Group, hired by Democrats, found Harder and Den­ham dead­locked at 48 per­cent each, and an in­de­pen­dent UC Berke­ley poll in late Septem­ber fa­vored Harder with 50 per­cent, giv­ing Den­ham 45 per­cent with 5 per­cent un­de­cided.

Na­tion­ally rec­og­nized ex­perts aren’t much help. Nate Sil­ver’s FiveThir­tyEight for sev­eral weeks have given Harder an edge, while the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port, In­side Elec­tions and the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia’s Cen­ter of Pol­i­tics (Sa­bato’s Crys­tal Ball) all rate the race as a toss-up.

If noth­ing else, peo­ple here might think we’ve ar­rived on a na­tional po­lit­i­cal scene most of­ten re­served to the East Coast and big ur­ban cen­ters.

“We’re get­ting a taste, and it has noth­ing to do with us, and ev­ery­thing to do with na­tional po­lit­i­cal dis­agree­ments,” UOP’s Smith said.

“At least,” he said, “they’re pump­ing mil­lions into the lo­cal econ­omy, buy­ing those ads.”


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Josh Harder

Jeff Den­ham

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