Mike Dunbar

Real news, fake news and news of dumb tricks on Denham’s behalf

Congressman Jeff Denham (left) and US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue tour John Brichetto’s Oakdale ranch in August. Denham has been a strong proponent of improved water infrastructure. His campaign shouldn’t need phony letters or fake news to make its case to voters.
Congressman Jeff Denham (left) and US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue tour John Brichetto’s Oakdale ranch in August. Denham has been a strong proponent of improved water infrastructure. His campaign shouldn’t need phony letters or fake news to make its case to voters. jlee@modbee.com

Last week, a member of Jeff Denham’s campaign staff offered one of our D.C. bureau reporters documents that he intimated showed Josh Harder had voted in two different districts in the 2016 general election. If true – and it was not – Harder would have been guilty of a felony.

Kate Irby, our reporter covering the 10th Congressional District race from Washington, checked into the claim and learned from Stanislaus voting officials that Harder had simply re-registered. She declined to waste any more time on the issue. There’s enough real news in this campaign to keep a team of reporters busy; non-news is not a priority.

But the Denham camp wasn’t finished. Instead of just dropping this non-story, local campaign manager Josh Whitfield rolled out a press release that began: “Yesterday documentation surfaced that indicated Democrat candidate for the 10th Congressional District, Josh Keck Harder, committed a felony by voting in both San Francisco and Stanislaus County during the 2016 General Election.”

Eventually, the press release got around to admitting no felony had occurred and Harder hadn’t voted twice. Yet, its tone clearly insinuated there was something fishy going on – trying to make it sound as if having his name on voter rolls in two counties was somehow Harder’s fault. That’s not true, either. The state is supposed to sort out such details when someone moves.

Still, the accusations found their way to Brietbart News, a bastion of conservative commentary. But Brietbart didn’t bite, either. It wrote a relatively straight news story and said in its headline that Harder hadn’t voted twice. This is a non-story, no matter how hard the Denham camp wishes otherwise.

If this was the only shady tactic used by Team Denham, we’d roll our eyes and shrug. But it’s not.

The Bee values letters from readers, running as many as we have room and time to post. Unfortunately, people have been trying to game our letters page for years, so we’ve had to develop processes to try to catch them. We confirm the identity of every writer who endorses (or condemns) a candidate or political cause. That process weeds out one or two bogus letters in most election cycles, but this year has been different – with many more arriving than usual.

Each one has been an endorsement of Denham or has ripped Harder.

Usually, we learned the letters were bogus when we called to confirm the writer’s identity, and the purported writer was shocked to learn a letter had been submitted over their name. Some were Denham fans, but hadn’t written the letter. One had changed his mind.

It happened twice to one Modesto resident. He wasn’t amused; neither were we.

Perhaps the Denham campaign is worried because we’ve received – and printed – so many more letters supporting Harder. Or maybe this is just a reflection of how tight this race has gotten. But it’s unnecessary.

On the really big issues – healthcare, water infrastructure, immigration, support for Donald Trump – these two candidates offer as much contrast as anyone could possibly need to make a decision.

Trying to filch a few votes by ginning up a non-controversy or signing someone else’s name to a letter shouldn’t be necessary. Or tolerated.

Mike Dunbar is editorial page editor of The Modesto Bee: 209-578-2325, mdunbar@modbee.com

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