Now that it appears Michael Eggman may have been paying himself $5,000 a month to manage his “Red to Blue” PAC, the backlash from his late entry into the campaign for California Congressional District 10 (CA-10) is starting to develop some real force.
In addition to resentment of Eggman’s late entry, the focus on his PAC has raised questions about how much money he brought in and where it went. But there’s another factor in Eggman’s jumping into the crowded field he probably never considered, and it may be why some candidates aren’t’ only happy he’s taking flak, but also hope he won’t withdraw from the race anytime soon.
Eggman almost certainly thought that when announced his candidacy, several candidates would soon drop out—he may not have realized that some candidates benefit from the larger field, or at least they have good reasons to believe they do.
Here’s how the primary odds work for those candidates confident they have a loyal core of support. In his 2016 CA-10 loss to Jeff Denham, Michael Eggman got 116,470 votes. However, in the primary election, Eggman garnered only 35,413 votes. Perennial contender Michael Barkley brought in 18,576 votes.
Fast forward to today’s crowded race. The frontrunners appear to be Eggman, whose name recognition is an advantage, TJ Cox, and Josh Harder. But Dotty Nygard, Michael Barkley, Virginia Madueno, and Sue Zwahlen have to be looking at those low primary vote totals and calculating how few votes they might actually need to pull off a big upset.
Sue Zwahlen, for example, frequently touts her qualification as, “a proven vote-getter.” In the 2013 race for a position on the Modesto City Schools Board of Education, Zwahlen pulled in 18,004 votes. That’s nearly as many votes as Michael Barkley got in the 2016 CA-10 primary. Zwahlen has to figure those 18,004 votes form a hard core of local support that could deliver her a win if a crowded field and small turnout divides votes among the other six candidates during the June primary.
Virginia Madueno is likely thinking along similar lines. She’s always had a solid base of regional support, and as a former mayor of Riverbank, a relatively high profile with good name recognition. Like Zwahlen, Madueno may be waiting for Eggman, Cox, and Harder to chop each other’s vote totals down while she maintains or even expands her own core of support. Dotty Nygard and Mike Barkley have to be considering the same possibilities.
With four months left until the June primary, CA-10 Democratic candidates are also trying to calculate the potential effects of a scandal, major miscue, or damaging personal history on any one contender. They’re figuring that Eggman will most likely pull votes from newcomers Harder and Cox, and counting on their own supporters to stay on board until June.
The result of these factors is the likelihood the field of Democratic candidates isn’t going to get any smaller anytime soon. It’s also likely that some candidates will soon go negative, and the resulting rancor and divisiveness will result in yet another war of Democrat on Democrat and lasting hard feelings.
Contrary to his own expectations, it may well be that Michael Eggman has encouraged Democrats to stay in the primary race until an inevitable bitter end that could actually reduce November turnout in an off-year election. The real beneficiary here, and he must be chortling and rubbing his hands together in anticipation, is Trump Republican Jeff Denham. If Democrats remain divided enough to lose their best opportunity in years to replace him, Jeff Denham may even send Michael Eggman a thank-you note .
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.