The “jungle primary” for California’s Congressional District 10 is starting to seem more like a death march. Last night, the five Democrats in the race and Republican Ted Howze seemed at times to be reading from the same script during a debate put on by the League of Women Voters at Modesto’s City Council Chambers.
Howze did distinguish himself as a Republican by claiming, “Tax cuts can work if they’re done right,” and defending Second Amendment absolutism by arguing there isn’t that much difference between a semi-automatic 22 caliber rifle and an AR-15, but on most issues he was comfortable joining the Democratic candidates in bashing incumbent Jeff Denham.
People who vote for Democrats have never had so many fine choices, but almost anyone who has followed this primary campaign is weary, frustrated, and wishing for it all to end. And many Democrats have a growing sense of dread that because there are so many fine candidates, and because of California’s primary jungle, no one candidate will garner enough votes to beat Ted Howze out of second place.
Howze obviously looked at previous primary elections, realized that by far the largest chunk of the vote was for Republican Jeff Denham, and determined that if he could carve out a big enough slice of that Republican pie, he would have an excellent chance of grabbing more votes than any of the Democrats in the race.
As for the Democrats, several have been salivating at the thought of how few votes it will take to finish second and thus enter the general election. Or they were salivating until Howze jumped in. Now, any of them with a grasp of hard political realities must have realized that the bloodletting among themselves could leave them all out of the running come June 5.
With no clear frontrunner, Democrats are growing more and more fretful that each candidate in the race will take just enough votes from the others to prevent any Democrat from winning. The numbers are daunting. In 2014, the last off-year election in CA-10, 75,046 total votes were cast. Republican Jeff Denham received 44,237 of those votes (58.9%). The remaining 30,809 votes were split between Democrats Michael Eggman and Mike Barkley, with Eggman picking up 19,804 votes to place second and Barkley finishing with 11,005.
Assuming a five-way split among Democrats this year, each candidate would get only around six-thousand votes—Howze might easily get more. But of course some Democrats will pull ahead. No one expects Mike Barkley to get many votes, but Eggman has name recognition, Harder is by far the best financed, Zwahlen has a strong Modesto base, and Virginia Madueno has a long local history of political and social involvement.
While there may not have been a defining moment Wednesday night, there were a few gasps from the audience when Madueno said “We have evolved” since enactment of the Endangered Species Act, and shouldn’t let “a little tiny fish” interfere with the economic success of our region. Every other Democratic candidate firmly supported the Endangered Species Act, while Ted Howze, as he did every time he wished to avoid the Republican default position, said the Endangered Species Act should be applied with “common sense.”
All the Democratic candidates spoke passionately in favor of providing relief and comfort to refugees from war-torn countries, and for a few minutes people in the audience were reminded that America’s history has always included the virtues of charity, compassion, and generosity so lacking in today’s ruling party.
Virginia Madueno gave thanks to the nation that enabled a sick child of immigrant parents to rise to political prominence, Mike Barkley spoke of America’s “duty” to provide comfort to those in dire need, Sue Zwahlen argued with deep conviction our obligation to help the sick and needy, Michael Eggman recounted his family’s multi-cultural history and realization of the American Dream, and Josh Harder pointed out how essentially wrong it is to have bombed Syria while admitting only eleven refugees from a country so devastated by war. For those moments the room was filled with a sense of decency almost palpable, a reminder to every local voter how paramount it is to restore the moral and civic virtue of a nation in danger of abandoning the values that made it great.