Denham or Harder? It was too close to call early Wednesday, according to incomplete returns for one of the most-watched House races in the United States.
With thousands of votes yet to count, Republican incumbent Jeff Denham was ahead with 50.6 percent to Democratic challenger Josh Harder’s 49.4 percent. The gap is 1,287 votes among 112,115 tallied so far, but final results could be days away.
Needing to flip 23 seats to regain control of the House, Democrats put millions of dollars behind Harder, a 32-year-old first-time candidate for public office. He had enjoyed a slight edge in pre-election polling, while most experts considered the race a toss-up.
Denham, 51, had represented this region in the California Senate for eight years starting in 2002 and was elected to the House in 2010. But it’s not clear whether superior name recognition might overcome national Democratic momentum in a midterm considered a referendum on the White House and GOP policies in Congress.
Both candidates hammered each other relentlessly in negative television ads and campaign mailers in recent weeks.
Denham repeatedly referred to his opponent as “Bay Area Harder” and said the former venture capitalist’s ideas and allegiance are more aligned with Nancy Pelosi and a liberal San Francisco agenda than the conservative-leaning Valley.
Harder criticized Denham for failed attempts to reform immigration policy, and said the incumbent turned his back on needy Valley people with GOP-driven votes aimed at dismantling the Affordable Care Act relied on by tens of thousands of his constituents. Harder also portrayed the incumbent as afraid to answer questions in rarely held town hall meetings.
Both men relied heavily on out-of-district funding and support. Most of Denham’s money came from corporate political action committees, while a majority of Harder’s contributions came from Bay Area donors.
Harder was born and raised in Turlock and obtained degrees from Modesto High School, Stanford and Harvard before returning to Turlock to teach business at Modesto Junior College. He rarely voted before entering the race, and formerly supported late-term abortions.
Denham, who has been popular with veterans and farmers, was stronger in Stanislaus County, with 51.3 percent of the vote there, while Harder fared well among voters in less-conservative San Joaquin County, where he captured 51 percent. Democrats hold a slight edge among voters in District 10, but Republicans tend to vote more consistently.
As of press time, votes from only half of precincts in District 10 had been counted. It’s believed far more votes were cast in this election than in the 2014 November midterm, but only 70,179 had been tallied late Tuesday compared to 125,705 four years ago, suggesting that election workers have tens of thousands of votes yet to count, including last-minute provisional and conditional ballots.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390