House speaker rallies Denham backers in Modesto

House speaker rallies Denham backers in Modesto

House Speaker Paul Ryan visited Modesto on Thursday to boost the campaign of Jeff Denham, R-Turlock. (Andy Alfaro/
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House Speaker Paul Ryan visited Modesto on Thursday to boost the campaign of Jeff Denham, R-Turlock. (Andy Alfaro/

House Speaker Paul Ryan came to Modesto on Thursday to cheer on supporters of Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock.

Ryan paid an afternoon visit to the McHenry Avenue headquarters for Denham’s tight re-election bid, where volunteers and local Republican leaders were gathered.

“This man is a workhorse,” Ryan said. “This man is a doer. Jeff Denham is already one of our quarterbacks on fixing some of your biggest problems here.”

The lawmaker from Wisconsin visited amid signs that Denham faces a close battle with Democrat Michael Eggman in the 10th Congressional District. The challenger has made much of Denham’s support for Donald Trump for president despite the billionaire’s many missteps.

The district takes in Stanislaus County and southern San Joaquin County. At last report, Democrats had a 1.2 percent edge in voter registration for the Nov. 8 election.

Ryan was Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 presidential election and became speaker a year ago. He announced Oct. 10 that he would no longer defend Trump, following the release of a 2005 videotape where the GOP nominee boasted about groping women. Ryan instead is working to protect his party’s 58-seat margin in the House.

He did not mention Trump in his Modesto speech and was not available to the media afterward.

The speaker praised Denham’s efforts on boosting farm-water supplies and improving the nation’s infrastructure overall. Ryan also noted Denham’s resistance to the California National Guard’s attempt to retake bonuses paid to some Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

Ryan also touched on Republican plans to fight terrorism, reduce taxes and regulation, reform health care and get poor people into jobs. And he said the party would protect personal freedoms.

“You know, this Constitution is a really special thing,” he said. “It’s got this beautiful principle called self-determination, self-government.”

Denham said he hoped the visit would drive home the need for increased water storage, infrastructure for moving farm products, and access to college for young people.

“I wanted to invite him here to understand, once again, some of the things that we fight for every day,” Denham said.

He, too, did not mention Trump in his speech but was asked about him during a news conference later.

“I am just focusing on our local election here,” Denham said. “It’s an exchange of ideas here at home, and that’s what it should. be. I’ll let the national politics play out on its own.”

Denham thanked the campaign volunteers, who work phones and walk neighborhoods to urge people to vote. One of them is John Houghton, 17, who said afterward that it was an honor to be visited by Ryan.

“He’s the speaker of the House, so he represents the entire country, but he’s able to recognize the troubles in Modesto and Stanislaus County,” Houghton said.

County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, a longtime Republican leader, agreed.

“It’s to rally the troops,” he said. “It’s nice to have the speaker of the House here to support the local candidate.”

The 10th is now a “toss-up” rather than “lean Republican” for two leading poll watchers. Both the Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia Center for Politics shifted the district earlier this month.

The Eggman campaign noted the Ryan visit in an email alert to potential donors: “Jeff Denham and the national media know that Michael has one of the best chances in the country to pick up a seat for Democrats – and that is why Paul Ryan is coming in to attempt to save the day.”

John Holland: 209-578-2385