Mike Dunbar

What Denham’s likely defeat says about our people, our priorities

Election clerk Sondra Taylor puts a ballot in the box outside the Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters office on election day. Election officials across the state were swamped by votes, and some 4.5 million remained uncounted by Friday.
Election clerk Sondra Taylor puts a ballot in the box outside the Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters office on election day. Election officials across the state were swamped by votes, and some 4.5 million remained uncounted by Friday. jlee@modbee.com

What did we learn from the announcement Friday that Jeff Denham has likely lost his fight to remain our Congressman?

We learned that Stanislaus County is moving, ever so slightly, west.

We learned what colors to use in painting a political portrait of our area.

We learned that voters have long memories.

We learned that many Republicans are fed up with Donald Trump.

Oh, and we learned that Josh Harder – a young man with no experience in public office, who had voted only three times in his life – is very likely to represent California’s 10th Congressional District in the House of Representatives starting in January.

Friday evening, election officials in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties provided their first update of results since Tuesday. While the Tuesday results had skewed conservative based on early-arriving absentee ballots, Friday’s results – which included thousands of late-arriving absentee ballots – pushed Harder ahead of the four-term incumbent by 3,218 votes. Even with an estimated 11,000 provisional ballots yet to be counted in Stanislaus County, most observers don’t believe Denham can make up the difference. Provisional ballots usually trend toward late-arriving absentees. Some takes-aways:

ON THE MAP – For years, as most of coastal California voted for Democrats in ever increasing numbers, from Bakersfield to Manteca the Valley remained a Republican stronghold with only an occasional Democrat elected to Congress. With Harder’s election, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties now look more like the Bay Area. And why not? A decade ago, a developer tried to label us the “Far East Bay” to entice homebuyers fleeing out-of-reach Bay Area prices. It didn’t catch on. But as more commuters arrive, and local businesses forge closer ties to Bay Area firms, those connections are growing stronger.

THE COLOR PURPLE – If you’re doing a paint-by-numbers portrait of Stanislaus County, the heart of the district must be purple but with a bright red trim. While Harder appears to have eked out a win, many Republicans are doing quite well. The GOP’s John Cox beat Gavin Newsom by 5,000 votes; Republican-turned-Independent Steve Poizner topped Ricardo Lara by 10,000 for insurance commissioner; Democrat Tom Hallinan, running for the Board of Equalization, lost by 2,100 votes despite being a hometown candidate and making a campaign pledge to dismantle the scandal-ridden agency. Some Democrats are doing well – Anna Caballero has 60 percent of the state Senate District 8 vote, Fiona Ma is outdistancing a Republican for Treasurer, and Betty Yee (controller), Alex Padilla (secretary of state) and Xavier Becerra all are winning. So it’s a big, purple mix.

NEVER FORGETTING AN ELEPHANT – Many believe Denham sealed his fate when he promised roughly 1,000 people at a town hall meeting in 2017 that he would never vote for a health care bill that ended insurance coverage of pre-existing conditions. Within a few weeks, he had done just that. Only because Sen. John McCain voted to kill the bill did it not become law. In a strategy followed by Democrats across the nation, Harder made sure voters never forgot.

It worked so well that by the end of October, Republicans were airing ads trying to make voters believe they were the party of Obamacare.

TRUMP EFFECT – Denham rarely spoke of the President while campaigning, though he was frequently asked to explain his 97.8 percent support for Trump’s legislative initiatives. It was a hard sell. Many of Trump’s policies appear vindictive toward the state that overwhelmingly rejected him in 2016. Tariffs have cost nut farmers, winemakers and the dairy industry millions; homeowners expect income tax bills to rise after the loss of California-specific deductions; Trump’s support of gun rights over gun safety; Trump’s race-baiting and antipathy toward Latino citizens have split apart families and are often simply cruel.

Even when Denham bucked Trump – a too-late effort to protect DACA recipients – many believed it to be politically motivated.

Trump’s unpopularity is clear when hapless Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox got 4,000 more votes here than did Denham. That’s the real Trump effect.

BRAIN DRAIN PLUGGED – Denham tried to paint Harder as a Bay Area liberal, an interloper. In reality, Harder was what most Valley parents hope for – a studious kid who goes off to college (Stanford then Harvard) then brings all that learning home. We call it the “brain drain” because so many of our brightest young people can’t find jobs in this region. They have to leave to work. But Harder came back – which is what most parents secretly wish for.

And what parent wouldn’t want a native son to come home, marry his girlfriend then find a good job. If only it weren’t in Washington, D.C.

Mike Dunbar is editorial page editor of The Modesto Bee. 209-578-2325.