Six Democratic candidates are scheduled to debate in Modesto at 7 p.m. Friday, each hoping for a shot at unseating GOP Rep. Jeff Denham this year in a high-stakes race drawing national attention.
The downtown venue — the Gallo Center for the Arts' smaller, 444-seat Foster Family Theater — sold out a week ago. But anyone with interest should come anyway, organizers say, because they're giving away dozens of seats reserved outside of the ticketing process. Also, by Friday they will have secured an overflow room in a nearby location.
Attention to Friday's debate has been "crazy," said Jessica Self, vice president of the sponsoring Central Valley Democratic Club. "I think the reason people are so excited is national politics is something that's on everyone's mind. The election of Donald Trump spurred a lot of people to activity, and we're taking advantage of that."
The candidates — Mateo Morelos Bedolla, T.J. Cox, Josh Harder, Virginia Madueño, Dotty Nygard, and Sue Zwahlen — know that party leaders view Denham as particularly vulnerable this year. He first was elected in 2010 and is in his fourth two-year term.
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Sitting out Friday's event is candidate Michael Barkley, who also missed a previous forum in protest that independent candidates were not invited.
The 10th Congressional District covers Stanislaus and south San Joaquin counties, and previous debates were held in Turlock and Tracy. Friday's is the third and final forum for Democratic candidates before an all-important Jan. 28 vote among several dozen party delegates. If 71 percent embrace one candidate, he or she would secure the party's pre-Primary nomination, with promises for big campaign money leading to the June Primary and November general election.
Jeff Jardine, a former Modesto Bee columnist who retired in June, moderated the first two debates and is scheduled to helm Friday's as well.
General-seating tickets for Friday were free, but could be reserved weeks ago and went fast. Doors will open to the public at 6 p.m. Until 7 p.m., people can visit tables for each candidate in the large foyer, as well as booths for several groups such as the Central Valley Democratic Club, Be The Change Turlock, Our Revolution and the Indivisible movement.
"It looks like it's going to be a packed house," said Linda Lagace, secretary for the Central Valley Democratic Club. "We've been telling people, 'Just come early'."
After the forum, some candidates will greet people down the street at Ralston's Goat restaurant, 1001 10th St.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390