Democrat Josh Harder on Friday zoomed ahead of Republican incumbent Jeff Denham in the hotly contested race for a House seat in the 10th District, a stunning reversal from what was initially announced in the midterm election, although perhaps 20,000 ballots have yet to be counted.
Harder now has 51 percent of the vote, representing a lead of 3,362 votes over Denham, who had led by 1,287 votes in preliminary results released earlier this week.
About 17,700 ballots remain unprocessed in Stanislaus County, including provisional ballots and others cast in same-day registration, called conditional ballots. San Joaquin has 90,000 ballots yet to process; a much smaller amount will figure in the 10th District, which includes only Ripon, Escalon, Manteca and Tracy in that county.
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“We could not be more encouraged by what we saw (tonight),” said Harder, 32, a political novice trying to unseat a four-term veteran first elected to the House in 2010. Denham, 51, also represented a district overlapping with this area in the California Senate from 2002 to 2010.
Denham could not reached for comment.
Harder said he wasn’t terribly surprised by the change; political observers know that early voters tend to be conservative, while late-arriving ballots historically favor Democratic candidates.
“We anticipated late results would shift things a little, so this is exactly what we expected,” Harder said late Friday in a telephone conversation. “The other side’s voters tend to vote a little early, while ours tend to take their time, maybe get some coffee when they’re doing their ballot.”
Both men claim Turlock as their home base, but their politics are quite different and the campaign featured scads of negative television commercials and mailers costing several millions of dollars and running almost nonstop for several weeks.
Both sides mocked the other, Photoshopping their opponent’s faces into embarrassing, cartoonish scenes. Harder portrayed Denham as untruthful and uncaring about constituents with pre-existing medical conditions, while the incumbent called his opponent “Bay Area Harder” and said he is more aligned with San Francisco liberals and Nancy Pelosi than with Valley ideals.
The Modesto Bee’s current computations give Harder 51 percent of the vote, with a combined 89,763 votes from both counties, based on new numbers posted by each on Friday evening. Denham has 86,401 votes, or 49 percent.
The California Secretary of State’s website on Friday showed Harder with 88,961 votes, or 50.9 percent, trailed by Denham’s 85,743 votes, or 49.1 percent. The reason for the discrepancy could not immediately be determined.
The race has been among the most-watched throughout the United States as Democrats angled to retake control of the House for the first time since 2010. That happened because of Democratic wins elsewhere, but intrigue in the Denham-Harder contest remains high, partly because people want to know who will represent them in votes on water, health care, immigration and taxes.
No other leads changed hands Friday in significant Stanislaus races.
District Attorney Birgit Fladager remains comfortably ahead of challenger John Mayne, 60.5 percent to 38.9 percent.
District 3 County Supervisor Terry Withrow lost a couple of percentage points, dipping from 53.9 percent to 51.8 percent; he now leads Modesto Councilman Tony Madrigal by 942 votes, a little less than the 1,048-vote lead Withrow initially posted earlier in the week.
Tom Berryhill lost a bit of ground, from 53.1 percent on election night to 52.4 percent on Friday, but continues to lead Frank Damrell in the other supervisorial race for District 4.
Amy Bublak stretched her lead in the Turlock mayor’s race from 36.9 percent reported on election night to 37.2 percent in Friday’s update, comfortably ahead of former mayor Brad Bates (29.3 percent), who now has only 23 votes more than incumbent Mayor Gary Soiseth (29.2 percent).
Scott Kuykendall’s lead over Shannon Sanford in the race for county schools superintendent shrunk slightly, from 54.5 percent to 54.2 percent.
Stanislaus voters still favor GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox over governor-elect Gavin Newsom, 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent. But true to form for late-arriving votes leaning left, the gap narrowed from earlier in the week, when nearly 54 percent of voters here preferred Cox.
Friday’s update, still incomplete, brings turnout in Stanislaus County, however temporarily, to 58 percent, a jump from 43.3 percent in the last midterm election four years ago.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390