Denham will be there in November, but who will face him? It’s a hard choice

Democratic Congressional candidate Josh Harder, right, and Cecilia Flores of Modesto take part in a protest against recent federal actions against undocumented immigrants in March in front of Rep. Jeff Denham’s office.
Democratic Congressional candidate Josh Harder, right, and Cecilia Flores of Modesto take part in a protest against recent federal actions against undocumented immigrants in March in front of Rep. Jeff Denham’s office. jholland@modbee.com

Jeff Denham is going to be hard to beat.

That was true before he raised $2.4 million to defend his seat representing California’s 10th Congressional District.

It was true before Denham took a lead role in trying to find a way to protect the Dreamers – whom Donald Trump threw under the bus when he tried to kill the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allows them to stay in America.

It was true before Democrats failed to coalesce around a single candidate, with five-and-a-half remaining from an original field of 10.

Yet, beating Denham is not impossible or even improbable. In CA-10, Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by 3 percentage points. Then Trump killed DACA, wounded many people’s healthcare coverage and has threatened a trade war that would make our region’s top exports targets. If there’s a blue wave in November, Denham – one of Trump’s most loyal supporters – could be swamped.

That became clear in April 2017, when Denham faced an unexpectedly hostile crowd of nearly 1,000 in Denair in the last town hall he’s attended in person.

Still, choosing Denham is a no-brainer for Republicans. If they hold the House, he could chair the Transportation Committee. Challenger Ted Howze, who moved to Stockton several years ago, is challenging him based on a reputation he built while on Turlock’s city council eight years ago. It’s not a serious challenge.

Democrats have made choosing a challenger far too difficult. Democratic voters in Stanislaus and south San Joaquin County are woefully undecided, with various polls showing Denham at 40 to 45 percent, and no Democrat above 25 percent.

Now it’s time to choose. It’s a tough call. Here’s why:

Josh Harder – With degrees from Stanford and Harvard, he has the documents to prove he’s smart. Like most young (age 31) Democrats, he wants more jobs, better education, less student debt. But Harder also is encouraging Medicare for all – which makes a lot of sense since the Republicans gutted the ACA’s foundation and sent health-insurance rates through the roof. He’s also the strongest on sensible gun rules.

His ideas on water are less nuanced, relying on underground storage and inland desalination plants. He needs to stop listening to his Bay Area donors on this point.

Harder has raised $1.27 million mainly from banking, healthcare and internet companies and has $820,000 to spend – far, far more than any other Democrat. He’s in a strong position.

Sue Zwahlen – If good intentions win campaigns, this former emergency room nurse and Modesto City Schools board member is a lock. But it’s hard to beat opponents who can outspend you 4-to-1. We like Zwahlen’s ideas – fixing the ACA and allowing individuals to buy into Medicare, restoring the $10.6 billion that Trump cut from education and taking the threat of climate change seriously. Her views on water are the best of any candidate. But dollars equal support, and with only $300,000 she just hasn’t raised enough.

Michael Eggman – Having lost to Denham in 2014 and 2016, Eggman came off the sidelines late hoping the third time would be charmed. He’s wrong. He’s still lacking in experience, lacking in backing and now he’s lacking in candor.

Eggman speaks frequently about being a farmer. His website notes he “still farms the same land he grew up on, operating an almond orchard.”

But that’s not true. Eggman sold his family farm in 2017, saying, “I had to make a tough decision, a real tough decision.” Perhaps Eggman figures since Denham gets away with calling himself a “local farmer,” he can fudge the details, too.

Virginia Madueño – Virtually everyone likes Madueño, the former mayor of Riverbank. But almost no one thinks she can win this election. She’s raised only about $240,000. A frequent candidate, she ran two years ago for Assembly, and came in third behind two Republicans.

Michael Barkley offers the greatest contrast to Denham … and everyone else. The unreconstructed liberal channels Bernie Sanders in his fourth tilt at this windmill. The “half Democrat” is independent Scott Shoblom, who has filed no campaign disclosure notices.

If Democrats want a real choice in November, a candidate who is smart, will grow with the job and has a chance to actually win, they should choose Harder in June. Because it’s going to be harder to beat Denham than most now think.