MODESTO, Calif. (CN) – If pollsters end up being correct on Nov. 6 and U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican, loses his bid to represent a slice of California’s Central Valley for a fifth term, it will likely come down to two reasons: health care and President Donald Trump.
Of course, winning and keeping the seat has never been a piece of cake for Denham, a 51-year-old Air Force veteran with nearly two decades of elections under his belt. Even as a state senator, when he was the target of an ultimately unsuccessful recall campaign for refusing to help end a state budget stalemate, Denham’s wins have often been squeakers.
Now, as the 10th Congressional District swings from purple to blue – Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama carried the district in 2016 and 2012, respectively, and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 11,000 – pundits say Denham’s days in Congress are numbered. Election prognosticator website FiveThirtyEight gives Denham a 22.6 percent chance of winning on Tuesday.
Not that Democrats have always made the right moves to win the seat. In 2012, they put up a former NASA astronaut and political newcomer; they put up another newbie in 2014, who took on Denham again in 2016. As a testament to the purple-ness of the district, the races were within a few percentage points.
This time – after Denham beat out the nine Democrats and another Republican in the June primary – the Democrats are running yet another political newcomer, and he’s a newbie in more ways than one. Area native Josh Harder, a 32-year-old venture capitalist-turned-junior college professor, acknowledges being “complacent about politics” and didn’t vote in an election until Trump was elected in 2016. Neither campaign responded to email requests for comment.
On paper, this should be the easiest fight Denham’s faced in a while. Although Harder grew up in Turlock and went to high school in Modesto, Denham’s campaign has done a bang-up job painting him as two things many Central Valley residents have no use for: a San Francisco Bay Area liberal and a venture capitalist. Instead, their race is very, very close. The very definition of a toss-up even now, a day before Election Day.
Some of Denham’s woes this time lie in the district he represents. As a whole, the Central Valley has been slower than the rest of the nation to recover from the Great Recession of 2008. The unemployment rate for Stanislaus County is around 6 percent, twice the national rate. If the 10th Congressional District was a state, it would be the poorest in the nation.
Consequently, a lot of voters in the district rely on the Affordable Care Act for their health insurance needs. And it comes as no surprise that Denham angered a lot of them in 2017, when he joined his fellow Republicans in voting to repeal and replace Obamacare. The bill undermined coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and slashed federal funding for Medi-Cal.
Some 40 percent of District 10 rely on Medi-Cal for their health care needs. And Denham promised constituents a few weeks before the vote that he opposed the bill. While Obamacare survived a Senate vote in the end – albeit badly damaged – Denham may not. Insurance rates spiked by 30 percent this year and up to 100,000 people in the district may lose coverage.