Even before he entered the room a little before 2:00 PM Sunday, Michael Eggman had cast a long shadow over the race for California’s Congressional District 10 (CA-10). At that time, the noisy crowd in the Teamster’s building in downtown Modesto was buzzing about several important votes still upcoming for the Democrats’ Pre-Endorsement Conference for Region 4.
But talk among candidates and their supporters vying for the nomination in CA-10 had for days focused on rumors that Eggman would jump into the race. Looking fit and tanned, Eggman admitted he would be pulling papers to run on Monday, January 29. The news had to hit most every other candidate like a punch to the gut.
Though the race was still crowded with at least six candidates, it had tightened, with TJ Cox and Josh Harder pulling away from a pack that included Virginia Madueno, Dotty Nygard, Sue Zwahlen, and Mike Barkley. Sunday’s vote tally confirmed that Harder and Cox were still favorites, with Harder picking up a tight one-vote victory over Cox. No one else was close.
But Eggman’s entry changes everything. His name recognition from two previous elections and past fund-raising prowess means the ante goes way up to play in a game that was already getting too rich for candidates on the margins.
He’s also managed to shift the focus. Until Eggman’s entry, all candidates agreed the primary mission was to beat Jeff Denham. Now, whether they will admit it or not, most will have to focus on beating Michael Eggman.
It was only last June that Eggman formed a Political Action Committee (PAC) he said was dedicated to, “taking what I learned on the campaign trail to make sure others succeed where we fell short.” A spokesman said one goal of the PAC was to spend a million dollars on each of seven congressional races in California.
Sunday, some were wondering where that money went. Most likely, campaign regulations prevent Eggman from using the money for himself, but his about-face on running raises legitimate questions.
At first glance, Eggman would seem to have further congested an already crowded field, but that may soon prove untrue. After a strong start, Dotty Nygard has faded; the increased requirements for big bucks almost certainly spell the end for her.
Mike Barkley has already endorsed Nygard; he himself may hang on until the end, but if he does, he will pull votes from any potential nominee. That’s something he may not wish to have to live with, given the enabling factor for Jeff Denham, and—by extension—Donald Trump.
Sue Zwahlen’s strength is among establishment Modesto Democrats and she has shown no signs of moving beyond those boundaries. She said Sunday that she’s still in the race, but she received no votes in the pre-endorsement tally, and has to seriously consider the net value of keeping on. Like Dotty Nygard, she’s one of those wonder women who have somehow managed to balance the demands of work, family, and civic duty while building a life based on selflessness and service to others. She’s going to be needed whether in or out of the race for CA-10.
Virginia Madueno delivered by far the most passionate and powerful speech of all CA-10 candidates who spoke Sunday. She’s long been underestimated, especially given her courage and persistence in overcoming obstacles while achieving success in business and public service. She now joins other candidates who’ve struggled to raise big money. Whatever she decides going forward, she’s shown she’s a major player with a bright future in local politics.
On paper, TJ Cox is by far the most qualified candidate for congress. During the tenure of Jeff Denham, most valley citizens have forgotten that their congressional representative is elected to serve them, not just the wealthy few. Cox has already mastered the aspects of public service most crucial for a successful congressman by leveraging public money to create jobs and much-needed services for the region’s citizens. He’s been endorsed by Congressman Jerry McNerney, most likely because McNerney recognizes Cox’s potential to be even more effective when in congress.
Cox is also idealistic. Sunday, he said that no matter who becomes the nominee, the important thing is defeating Jeff Denham and returning government to the people.
Josh Harder may be the only candidate who benefits from Michael Eggman’s candidacy. Harder has already shown he can stack up the chips, and is unlikely to be bluffed out of a high stakes game by Eggman’s big antes. From Harder’s viewpoint, Eggman’s entry just limits the field to major players. It’s also likely that Eggman has underestimated Harder.
Though he looks like a preppy stripling, Harder shows many of the qualities of a phenom. His win Sunday was one more sign that he not only has money, but also a hard core of local support; he’s shown remarkable acumen in moving to the top of the list in a race crowded with superb contestants.
It’s looking more and more like Harder may be one of those rare savants who sees politics in terms of angles, vectors, and nodes of power. Throughout the campaign, he’s remained cool, analytical, and almost mechanically methodical as he checks off the list of chores needed to keep moving onward and upward.
With a significant head start based on name recognition, Michael Eggman likely thinks he’s entered a race he can win easily, but if TJ Cox and Josh Harder force him to run on his accomplishments, he’s going to need more than, “local farmer and beekeeper” to maintain a lead. And both Cox and Harder will very likely find ways to remind everyone of Eggman’s past history in contests against Jeff Denham.
As one young Cox supporter said Sunday, “After he lost twice, I figured that was it.” Michael Eggman may hear more and more such sentiment in weeks and months ahead.
Denise Hunt says
Eric, great article bringing in several complicated issues! I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t note that you fell victim to calling one of the female candidates “Wonder Woman” because she was miraculously able to balance children, family, and civic duty, selflessness and service to others…I can’t recall hearing that about any male candidates, ever, despite their obvious dedication to service to others, raising children, and doing one’s civic duty. It’s one of those things that assumes a separation of women from men as being connected to their traditional familial roles.
We do a disservice to everyone that chooses to run for office by congratulating one gender over another for what they all sacrifice to serve the rest of us.
Avonelle Tomlinson says
You’re right in that, Denise. That said, most women are still the primary care givers in our homes, even when we selflessly work at a career AND within our communities. Frankly, I’m impressed by all Sue Z. Does. It’s far more than I could manage as a working Mom.
I’m backing Josh Harder because I feel he’s going to represent us here in CA-10 most effectively, with compassion and focus.
Carol Quinlan says
I am really excited about TJ Cox given what I’ve seen and heard from him. I think he’d be excellent representing our area. But I’m amazed that Eggman’s back after losing twice–why? He doesn’t seem like a politician who loves the game. I never saw him
campaign!! The big goal is to oust Denham!!!! I think Cox can do it. Sorry to say, I don’t think any of the women could. We Demos must be realistic and work hard or it will be another lost chance.
Avonelle Tomlinson says
Take another look at Josh Harder. He’s running an excellent campaign, based on the values he was raised with, right here in this district. TJ is very polished, but I think Josh can take this AND represent us, his constituents…
Michael Caine says
I’m primed to vote for a female candidate but for this district two of the female candidates have the same major flaw, they couldn’t speak their way out of a wet paper bag. Nygard can’t even read her speech with fluency and if Zwallen has a personality it disappears when she gets to the podium. They both have good credentials, but they have to be able to campaign effectively to win, and they do not inspire. Madueno is passionate, but, to me, seems to lack any substance what so ever. I see no real accomplishments or support. Cox has the accomplishments and Harder has the money and an ability to articulate an issue. Eggman has true credibility as a campaigner, but little to show for it. We’re a long way from a meaningful vote, but the women just don’t show as likely winners. Too bad.
Avonelle Tomlinson says
I too, wanted a woman. I was disappointed. I feel you’ve summed it up quite well. I’m working for and with Josh Harder as I feel he’s really the best candidate!
Buda Kajer-Crain says
I find Eggman’s entry into the race to be dishonorable. He has not participated in any of the debates, and if he’s spoken to any of our action groups, I’m not aware of it. I see him as lurking in the weeds, waiting to see how much energy the grass roots groups were generating, then deciding to take advantage of the work everyone, except him, has accomplished. I don’t know what the man stands for, but his actions in this matter prompt me to question his integrity.
Tina Driskill says
Eggman lost to a pre-Trump Denham, before Trump became the catalyst to awaken the electorate. In that environment there were less voters and more willing to rubber stamp Denham no matter what. Denham hasn’t shown that he is willing to advocate for the largest part of his constituency, a constituency that is fed up with his lack of availability and transparency. The hope is thathat all eligible voters will go to the polls and let Denham know, We’re “mad as hell, and [we’re] not going to take it any more!”
Whether Eggman or Harder or Cox or another candidate is elected to challenge Denham, the major concern is that district voters go to the polls and let America know we won’t continue to support Trump”s UnAmerican and undemocratic agendas through our local representative in Congress.