Turlock native son Josh Harder has suddenly become a target for supporters of other candidates, especially those who favor Sue Zwahlen and Michael Eggman. It’s a sure sign Harder has broken away from the pack in California Congressional District 10 (CA-10), where the crowded field also includes Virginia Madueno, Mike Barkley, and Republicans Jeff Denham and Ted Howze.
Probably the most consistent theme in the attack letters appearing in local newspapers is that Harder— a fifth generation member of a family whose ancestors came looking for gold and stayed to farm—is an outsider who doesn’t understand the Valley. This is what happens when our young people go off, get educated, find success, and return to their native ground.
Or at least it happens if they want to run for office in a district dominated by a plastics mogul from the Monterey coast who has had a successful four-term run calling himself a “local farmer” and displaying faux concern for immigrants every election year.
The “local farmer” label lent Jeff Denham so much cachet that it was appropriated by Democrat Eggman when he mounted campaigns against Denham in 2014 and again in 2016. And even though he sold the family farm last October, Eggman’s mailers are still calling him a “local farmer.”
But the magic of the local farmer tag never did Eggman much good—he lost to Denham in 2016 in a district Hillary Clinton won handily, and this year he’s been wounded by the Modesto Bee endorsement of Harder, which included news of Eggman’s farm sale.
Nonetheless, Eggman, a last-minute entry into a field of candidates that at the time included TJ Cox, had been favored to prevail among Democrat challengers until Harder’s relentless air and ground games started having effects no one anticipated. Eggman seemed so confident he barely mounted a campaign, and has yet to make much of a showing in a district where Harder, Madueno, and Zwhalen have been campaigning intensely since the first of the year.
Among the curious omissions marking Eggman’s desultory efforts, his failure to make a ballot statement stands out almost as much as the sale of the farm. Then there was the delay in getting his website up, which didn’t materialize until almost mid-April.
When Eggman finally showed up for a debate against Harder in Tracy a couple of weeks ago, audience members berated him for ignoring them. Eggman said he hadn’t been around because he entered the contest late and was still trying to raise money. And that’s when he got slammed even harder by people who said he hadn’t even campaigned in Tracy in 2016, when he supposedly had plenty of time and money.
While Eggman still has the advantages of name recognition and his sister’s success in Assembly District 13, which includes Tracy, polls have shown his early lead—estimated at 20 points in January—has shrunk drastically, with Harder having gained the most ground. A recent poll showed Harder actually leading.
And because Harder has held more town halls and neighborhood gatherings during his primary campaign than incumbent Jeff Denham held during his entire term in office, Valley citizens have realized Harder’s so-called “outsider” status is bunk. What voters want is someone in congress who will show up, listen, and act in their interest.
Right now, Harder has two out of three of those wishes covered, and he’s convincing more and more people every day that all he needs for number three is a win in the June primary, followed by victory in November. As of today, the odds, the voters, and the (desperate?) attack letters all seem to be favoring Harder, who really has been “working harder” throughout the district.
About The Author
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.