Harder Rolls Denham

Tickets were scarce

Jeff Denham came into the room shouting and left the room shouting and no one knows why. A big man, maybe Denham thought he could intimidate Turlock native Josh Harder, his opponent in the race to represent California’s 10th Congressional District in Washington DC.

But Harder was on his home turf and seemed to grow more and more comfortable as the debate between the two went on at Turlock’s Carnegie Arts Center Saturday morning. From the very beginning, the only reaction Denham could get from Harder was a wry smile that lifted one corner of the younger man’s mouth.

Last Thursday, during their debate at the Modesto Bee, the two candidates had seemed much more evenly matched. Saturday, it was simply no contest.*

Jeff Denham apparently thought he could bluff his way through the entire session by shouting and calling out Harder on his poor voting record. But Harder had an answer for everything Denham brought to the arena.

“You’re right, I was complacent,” Harder said of his voting record. But after 2016 Harder said he saw, “We were being misrepresented on every issue I’ve ever cared about by someone who votes with his party 98% of the time. Now, the  complacency is gone, and it’s all thanks to you. Thanks to your efforts, we’re seeing people coming out of the woodwork. Thank you for that.”

Denham repeatedly accused Harder of voting against “the water plan I supported,” but he seemed confused about the California Water Fix and Delta Tunnels. Denham voted to prohibit litigation against both the Water Fix and the Tunnels, but said Saturday that he’s always been against the tunnels.

Josh Harder

He also said that sending water south, “Doesn’t affect us that much because we’re south of the Delta.” Statements like that might make people wonder whether Jeff Denham understands that the Oakdale Irrigation District sends Stanislaus River water south through the San Joaquin Delta when and however it can, even if it means abandoning its own water rights.

Denham repeated claims that Harder takes money from Nancy Pelosi and Bay Area donors, and said he was proud to have donations from firefighters, realtors and the Farm Bureau. But he seemed nonplussed when Harder said that Denham had received $130,000 from pharmaceutical companies and then voted against allowing negotiations on drug prices.

On health care in general, Harder reminded Denham repeatedly that he had stood in front of a thousand constituents and promised them he would vote against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and then voted for it once back in Washington DC. Denham replied that, “It’s been difficult to explain…it’s been a challenge to explain.”

Harder replied, “I can solve the mystery of why it’s difficult to explain. It’s difficult to explain because people can see your votes.”

In response to a question on whether the candidates believe in human-caused climate change, Denham veered off into a series of complaints about Bay Area pollution. After he finally admitted he believes in climate change, Harder pressed him by asking, “Human caused?” Denham then looked like someone waiting for advice from higher up.

Harder’s most consistent theme was that, “Jeff Denham votes with his party  98% of the time.” Denham replied that he wasn’t afraid to stand against his party and had done so on immigration. But Harder pointed out that Denham’s proposals on immigration had never gone anywhere and that his stand against his party happened only 2% of the time.

Denham referred repeatedly to a video he claims shows Harder favors abortion into the ninth month of pregnancy. Harder replied that he had simply misunderstood a question and that he has always made his pro-choice position clear.

Denham Plastics, Turlock

“I don’t believe government should get between a woman and her doctor,” he said. “I also don’t believe in late-term abortion. What we should be doing is making adoption easier and less expensive. We should not make it hard for kids to find a good home.” Harder added that we should also be working to reduce abortion as a woman’s primary option.

While there were plenty of differences on the issues, as the debate went on it became more and more apparent that Harder was far more composed and prepared than the incumbent. That in itself was as puzzling as Denham’s prolonged shouting spree.

By the end of the debate, Jeff Denham seemed as tired and bedraggled as the flag that flies above his Turlock warehouse, a building most observers believe is empty. It was a surprising and unexpected position for an incumbent with virtually unlimited campaign funding and many years’ experience in politics.

*Watch the debate here

Eric Caine
Eric Caine
Eric Caine formerly taught in the Humanities Department at Merced College. He was an original Community Columnist at the Modesto Bee, and wrote for The Bee for over twelve years.
Comments should be no more than 350 words. Comments may be edited for correctness, clarity, and civility.


  1. I was there, Denham’s shouting immediately reminded me of a scared dog barking who thinks, “if I make a lot of noise, I can scare the one who scares me.” I know it didn’t work. Denham was the only one in the room who was rattled.

    • I attended the Harder/Denham debate , in front of s live audience at Magnolia School in Oakdale , last week. At the last minute , Denham’s manager refused appearance, claiming that Harder had lied, or somehow misrepresented the venue, so they withdrew. Somehow a new venue at ModBee was cobbled together and the debate was live-streamed to us at the school. Just Harder and Denham with modbee editor asking questions.
      I believe Denham was looking for a way out ; he does not want to be in front of a live audience . He is very afraid of tough questions. I went to a Denham town hall in Modesto about 5-6 yrs ago and he couldn’t handle it. He had all his aides with him ( about 4-5) and they carefully selected people from the audience for their questions.It became obvious to myself and others that those selected asked the “safe” questions, to which Denham gave a rote , memorized reply. After awhile, Denham had used the same answers so many times , it was like he was programmed with a feed loop.
      Harder is one tough dude. He keeps his cool. Denham was clearly irked by Harder.
      Denham is a millionaire several time over and will never have to worry about health care, but votes to make health care accessibility impossible for many. He puts up a good show of caring, but he doesn’t.

  2. I was also there, I thought Harder seemed like a usual puppet. Doesn’t seem to have a grasp on how things work in the valley. I had high hopes for him and went in leaning his way. I think Denham came out on top of this one personally.

      • Typical of you, Eric. You’re dismissive and demeaning of ANYONE who carries a different point of view than yours.

        • Mr. Barton: Because I push back against your “with a straight face” slur doesn’t mean I’m dismissive. It means I won’t take your feeble attempts at gaslighting and character assassination lying down, nor will I humor your attempts to misrepresent my claims.

          • Now I get it. If anyway deigns to challenge what you are certain are your superior intellect and unassailable logic, they are committing “slurs” and “character assassination”. These are typical tactics from the left’s playbook.

            Here’s another part of the playbook, which you execute with precision: Don’t engage on the facts (e,g, that Jerry Brown is leading the charge for the Twin Tunnels as one of his legacy projects at a crippling expense to the California taxpayer). Just skewer your opponents in demeaning fashion. Perfecto.

            • Mr Barton: It is not news that Jerry Brown favors the tunnels; it is common knowledge. Congressman Calvert, Congressman McCarthy, Congressman Nunes, Congressman Valadao, and Congressman Denham are trying to fast track the tunnels. That’s news, especially to you.

    • Agreed. And it seems, based on comments during the debate, MOST came in “leaning” . It’s the feelers that ignore facts & current CA political climate & those that do know & think critically based on the aforementioned & the true facts & stats. CA is blue currently. It’s a tough challenge to get through the entrenched blue state while being an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs (Capitalists) are outnumbered by the ones that they support, pay and give opportunities to. If CA continues runs enough of them out then what? It’s a delicate game being played. Pull too much water or micromanage it & farms fold. Tax or death by “increased fees” (fancy taxes) businesses fold, evade (less tax revenue) or leave CA.. Balance is key. Common sense, sacrifice of self interest & outside influences is necessary. Compromise by everyone with different opinions is required. Get informed, Get involved. Get along. Agree to disagree. Be civil.

  3. Josh Harder is a winner!! He will fight for his constituents. I have had the pleasure of meeting him and will support him all the way to the polls. Jeff Denham needs to go!! #votebluesendjoshhardertocongress

  4. Look. Anyone in the audience at this debate is a part of a self-selected group. You had to jump through hoops to get a ticket. These weren’t your average constituents. To say someone wasn’t leaning one way or the other is absurd. By the end of the debate I was very tired of Jeff’s shouting. Who told him this was a good strategy (Oops. I gave away how I am leaning). It is hard to return civility to politics when we have such bad examples in high places.

  5. I attended and was struck by how many times (8 to 10) Jeff Denham used the phrase. “Don’t take my word for it, look it up.” To me that said that he expects his listeners to want confirmation of his statements instead of being able to trust that he told the truth to begin with. Denham, during the presidency of Obama said, and I quote, “the 18 trillion national debt is a threat to democracy,” and then he voted to give huge tax breaks to the corporations and super rich that will increase the national debt at least another trillion and a half. He also flipped on his statement that he would not vote on a health bill that would take away health care for 100,000 of his constituents and the a week later did just the opposite. Denham is trying to change the framework of the discussion of the campaign to “I’m, running against Pelosi and the San Francisco liberals. Please don’t look at my voting record and don’t pay any attention to my lack of courage to stand up in front of my constituents and explain my voting record.

  6. Jeff Denham is in trouble and he knows it. He was very defensive and kept saying “don’t take MY word for it.” So, I didn’t.

    Jeff Denham, during Obama’s administration, said, “the 18 trillion dollar national deficit is a danger to our democracy.” Then Jeff voted for a tax break that gave huge amounts of money to the corporations and the super rich that will increase the debt by at least a trillion and a half. Go figure.

    Jeff also said he would not vote to take health care away from 100,000 of his constituents and then voted a week later to do just that. GO figure.

  7. The only thing Harder accomplished was showing the world that he is a non voting, late term abortion wanting wannabe Pelosi Puppet, and just another Bay Area Slacker.. Denhem did a great job calling him out on his radical far left liberal views. As for the piece published, it’s just another partisan propaganda screed. The folks know better.

    • For those who don’t know: Mike Birch does not live in CA-10, as you might infer from his spelling of the congressman’s name. Mr Birch exports nuts. His business is heavily dependent on growers who have contractual (paper) water rights and thus must rely on water from districts that have historical water rights. Mr Birch favors sending CA-10 water south to those growers. Like Mr Denham, he’s in a bit of a panic. He thinks “Pelosi Puppet” and “Bay Area Slacker” original and witty labels. Enough said.

  8. Eric, I have a modest proposal for you: I’d like to invite you to lunch. One of the real problems I think we have in America these days is that social media allows people with different points of view to vilify each other on blogs, tweets, and other formats, while having no idea who the real person is behind the words on the screen.

    Over the past couple of weeks, you and I have publicly hammered each other. You have no idea who I am or what I am about. I have never met you, nor do I know who you really are or anything about you. And I’m pretty certain that the images we’ve formed in our minds about each other are almost certainly wrong.

    Rather than draw hard lines and accomplish nothing except ill will, let’s see if the two of us can be part of the solution rather than the problem.

    What do you think?

    • Thank you for the generous offer Mr Barton. It’s generally considered unseemly for journalists to fraternize with news makers. I bear you no ill will and do not accept your assumption that you’ve been vilified. I wish you the very best of everything.

      • Fair enough. Thanks for the reply and the good wishes. Perhaps we’ll run into each other at some future event and can exchange pleasantries.

Comments are closed.