Ever since taking office years ago, Congressman Jeff Denham has done a poor job of representing his district. Yet, he was able to win reelection over challenger Michael Eggman in the last two elections, mostly because Eggman made critical mistakes. Will the next Democratic Party candidate make the same mistakes?
The biggest mistake Michael Eggman made in running for Congress was his strict adherence to the Democratic Party platform. The platform works well in some parts of the country, but is vehemently opposed by voters in states dominated by Republicans.
In the Valley, voters dislike parts of the Democratic Party’s platform. The insistence that a “one-size-fits-all” platform is good for all of its candidates goes far to explain why the party is in the minority in a large part of the United States. The policy has been fatal for the candidacy of Democrat candidates throughout much of the Valley.
The successful candidate will need to tailor his or her platform to what the citizens of the Valley want. This means that candidates need to find out what positions resonate with local voters and emphasize those issues. Parts of the Democrats’ platform actually alienate voters; a dictatorial party leadership appears to think it knows best for the entire country and withholds support for candidates who don’t toe the line.
Denham’s Formula for Success
Any candidate for Congress would be wise to understand the opposition; Michael Eggman apparently did not. Congressman Jeff Denham is a slick operator. He tells the voters what they want to hear, then votes the party line in Congress. He promises and doesn’t deliver. His opposition has not held him fully accountable for his votes.
Mr. Denham’s main accomplishment has been delivering for Indian gaming enterprises and in shutting down the government during budget disputes. He has talked up delivering an improved life for veterans, but dozens of homeless vets live on the streets within his district.
In Michael Eggman’s campaigns, he failed to adequately demonstrate how the incumbent’s record hurt the district. He failed to point out that Denham brings home very little money to his district except in the form of ag subsidies. Generic political attack ads attempted to generate a negative image of Mr. Denham, but the incumbent was able to go negative against a political unknown because of the locally unpopular Democratic Party platform.
Campaign in Person
An incumbent politician has a tremendous advantage over an unknown challenger. Denham is a horrible representative, but voters are usually not willing to take a chance on ending up with someone possibly worse. Eggman campaigned ineffectively. He received little press and didn’t present voters with sufficient opportunity to meet him in person.
Few candidates win public office without meeting the voters or establishing name recognition. Spending large sums of money on television advertisements may establish name recognition, but provides diminishing returns as viewers tune out ads. An in-person visit, coffee klatch, or public event often changes minds and is more effective than one minute TV commercials. Anyone wishing to unseat Mr. Denham will need to campaign full time on the road.
Incumbents can be Beaten
Former Modesto City Councilman Bill Conrad used to say that an incumbent has a 20 percent voter advantage over political challengers. Challengers can win only if the candidate learns about the concerns of local constituents, and works hard. Given the poor representation provided by Congressman Jeff Denham, a victory should be easier than in many political contests, but it still won’t be easy.
About The Author
Bruce Frohman served on the Modesto City Council from 1999-2003. He believes the best way to build a better community is to have an informed citizenry.