The most unpopular guy at Friday’s congressional debate wasn’t even in the house.
GOP Rep. Jeff Denham’s name was invoked at least 35 times, never kindly, by six Democratic Party candidates hoping to replace him.
They also bashed President Donald Trump a half-dozen times in the nearly 3 1/2-hour forum.
For example: “We have an abuser-in-chief in office and we have enablers like Jeff Denham who allow it to happen. Somehow we’ve forgotten that character counts,” said T.J. Cox.
Another example: “(Denham) runs away from you when you want to engage him in a conversation,” Dotty Nygard said.
And another, from Sue Zwahlen: “He lies, and then he hides.”
The other three candidates, Josh Harder, Virginia Madueño and Mateo Morelos Bedolla, voiced similar Denham venom, and those in the completely filled 444-seat theater at Modesto’s Gallo Center for the Arts ate it up. Some briefly led a portion of the audience in a loud and rowdy “Dump Denham!” chant before the event officially got under way.
About 60 more people observed the debate from an overflow venue at nearby Greens Restaurant.
“Democrats selling out theaters months before we even get to the Primary,” mused Jessica Self, incoming president of the sponsoring Central Valley Democratic Club, to the capacity crowd. “This is amazing.”
The six candidates are vying for the blessing of the Democratic Party, whose delegates could choose to endorse one of them in late January rather than waiting for the June Primary. That would give one of them a huge early boost, financially, to combat Denham, whose $1.5 million war chest dwarfs all of theirs.
However, “Jeff Denham is more vulnerable than ever,” Harder said, noting the target that Democratic Party leaders have put on the 10th Congressional District as one of several needed to “flip the House,” or regain control from Republicans.
The district includes all of Stanislaus County and the southern portion of San Joaquin County. It’s nearly split between the two major parties, slightly tipped toward Democrats, though Denham has held the seat since his election in 2010.
Aside from bashing Denham, Friday’s forum focused on social issues. All candidates professed support for abortion rights and protection of the LGBTQ community. Most spoke of the need for good jobs and health care for all, and for helping immigrants and their families.
Some memorable quotes:
Madueño: “We’re going to need to elect somebody who is going to appeal to a broad sector of voters. We don’t have enough Democrats to win this election. We’ve got to appeal to those in the center-left and the moderate right.”
Zwahlen: “I’ve been building a base of relationships that no one on this stage can compete with.”
Harder: “Jeff Denham is scared. The first attack ad in the nation was launched against me. I feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”
Cox: “I can go toe-to-toe with (Denham) and I’ll beat him every time.”
Nygard: “In the (emergency room) in 30 years, I can tell you I’ve never seen cardiac arrest or respiratory arrest from pot.”
Bedolla: “I firmly believe we cannot send the same people to Washington and get different results.”
An edited version of Friday’s debate should be available for viewing by Monday at the Central Valley Democratic Club’s website, said videographer Richard Anderson.
Also running are Democrat Michael Barkley, who did not participate Friday, and independents Terra Snover and Scott Shoblom.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390