There may be five challengers for Josh Harder’s seat in congress, but judging by audience responses Wednesday night at Modesto’s State Theatre, the general election will be between Harder and Ted Howze.
Howze has a couple of Republican rivals in the primary, but neither Bob Eliot nor Marla Livengood generated much excitement during a debate where the clear favorites were men who had already faced each other during the 2018 campaign, when Harder upset Republican incumbent Jeff Denham.
Running to the right of Denham on immigration, Howze made a strong showing in that year’s primary, coming within 3,019 votes of edging Harder out of the race, as he finished a strong third behind Denham and Harder.
This year, Howze is doubling down on Denham’s tactic of running against Nancy Pelosi and the Bay Area, as he tries to tie Turlock native Harder to Pelosi and Bay Area donors. The ploy didn’t work for Denham, but by now has become a required ritual; it never fails to rile the Republican base.
Harder’s Democratic challengers, Ryan Blevins and Mike, “Déjà vu,” Barkley, won’t garner much support. Everyone’s lost count of the number of times Barkley has run, but last year his algorithm for success took a serious hit when for the first time his vote total fell below that of previous primaries; until then, Barkley thought he had a lock on congress if only he managed to live long enough to achieve a winning total. Yes, his plan was to keep gaining votes every election until he won. Now, after garnering only 2.39% of the 2018 primary vote, he’s starting over with the same, “I’m the most qualified candidate mantra.” There are fewer reasons to vote for him this year than ever.
Blevins, a robotics engineer who doesn’t live within District 10 boundaries, said he’s running because Harder supported the U.S. military budget. His campaign slogan, emblazoned on a t-shirt he wore to the debate, reads, “Make America Think Harder.” He may be immune to irony.
Though Eliot is a San Joaquin County Supervisor and Livengood once worked for Richard Pombo in Washington D.C., neither has enough name recognition in Modesto or Turlock to present a serious challenge to Howze on the Republican ticket. Eliot may yet get a financial boost from the Republican Party, which he says “encouraged” him to run.
The “encouragement” caused a bit of a flap when Howze was asked why the national party “recruited” Eliot instead of throwing its support to Howze. Howze replied that the party didn’t recruit Eliot, but when asked, Eliot admitted he’d been approached by the Republican National Committee and “encouraged” to run. Howze was mistaken if he thought Eliot would take a hit for him on that issue.
All the Republican candidates voiced great enthusiasm for President Trump, agreed that impeachment was strictly political, and took strong stands against the “environmental extremists” who argue climate change is caused by human activity. Eliot added that there was lots of disagreement about climate change, apparently unaware there’s virtually no disagreement among scientists.
Harder said he supported impeachment because when taking office he swore to uphold the Constitution, and Trump’s self-serving abuses of presidential power left him no choice. He said emphatically that climate change is real, largely human-caused, and the first thing we need to do is rejoin the Paris Agreement so we can join the rest of the world in combatting it.
Howze is trying to make health care a central issue, but is also opposed to Medicare for all, the Affordable Care Act, or modifications to it. He seems to be advocating a return to the free market approach, as he argued that increased competition would bring prices down. He apparently doesn’t realize we’ve already been down that road, or maybe he’s counting on short memories among the electorate.
His stand on homelessness also showed little understanding of the complexities involved, as he retreated to the “accountability” solution, arguing that until homeless people want help, nothing can be done. Like far too many who’ve looked at homelessness as a failure of character, he dismisses critical factors like anosognosia, shortfalls in housing and health services, escalating rents, and the wrenching effects rising costs have on fixed incomes.
Harder, who has visited homeless camps in Modesto several times, has a far better understanding of what’s needed to address the crisis now, and is working to get federal funding for housing, health care, and mental health services.
Tracy Democrat Manuel Zapata thinks Howze’s strategy of labeling Harder a Nancy Pelosi puppet will backfire if people look at Harder’s record of achieving bipartisan support for veteran victims of Agent Orange and the first federal funding for local water storage in fifty years.
“There are two clear front runners,” said Zapata, a veteran observer of Valley politics, “with two very different visions for the Valley, but it doesn’t seem like attacking Harder on his record is going to stick, considering how much he’s reached across the aisle.”
In the end, the battle for congress in California’s District 10 is shaping up as referendum on Donald Trump, and the contestants in the general election will be Josh Harder and Ted Howze. The Republican Party as it was known prior to 2016 no longer exists; it is now the Party of Trump, and candidates like Ted Howze will rise or fall with him come next November.