The approval rating of Congress has hovered around nine percent for over a year. Logically, nearly every member of Congress should be turned out of office next election. Yet, Congressman Jeff Denham received a majority of total votes cast in his primary reelection bid.
What is the significance of the vote?With about 17 percent of registered voters turning out in the June 3rd primary, an analysis of Jeff Denham’s election victory is a simple matter. Congressman Denham’s district has a hardcore base of Republican supporters who will vote for him solely on the basis of his party identity. As Mr. Denham was the only Republican in the race, he was the default candidate for Republicans and Republicans turned out in much larger numbers than Democrats.
Mr. Denham had little opposition. Democrats Michael Eggman and Mike Barkley ran feeble races. Neither spent much money to become known in Denham’s district. While Denham had campaign signs plastered all over the countryside, neither Democrat placed more than a few token signs.
The lack of publicity in the local media, the lack of signs, and the lack of political events may have given the impression that neither Democratic candidate is a serious contender. While positive publicity is essential for a successful political campaign, this writer needed several weeks to line up an interview with a Democratic challenger. If a candidate is not accessible, people can’t get to know him.
Jeff Denham’s District in Play
Earlier this year, analysts reported that Jeff Denham’s Congressional district is vulnerable to takeover by a Democrat. Reports circulated that the Democratic Party was going to commit money and resources to try and capture Denham’s seat. Little evidence of a campaign existed on the Democrats’ side more than a week before the election.
Jeff Denham started his campaign by attacking Mike Barkley as if he were the Democrats’ preferred candidate. Michael Eggman was not even mentioned in the attack ad. Though most Democrats favored Eggman as their front runner, Denham’s shrewd attack on Barkley gave Barkley more name recognition and votes among Democrats than he otherwise would have had. Had Denham attacked Barkley more vigorously, Barkley could have actually ended up as the choice of the Democrats, as Eggman was still mostly unknown on Election Day. This would have put the Democrats’ weakest candidate on the ballot to oppose an incumbent.
Barkley received about 18 percent of the votes cast, while front runner Eggman received an unimpressive 25 percent of the popular vote. Given Denham’s negative image throughout his district, the percentages for his opponents are laughable. The lack of effort to campaign on the part of the Democrats’ candidates is reflected by the lack of voter turnout. If the Democrats don’t come to life soon, Denham’s reelection will be a cakewalk.
Dirty Contest Ahead?
Incumbent Jeff Denham’s negative flyer in the primary is only a sample of what can be expected between now and the November 2014 election. Mr. Denham has a large pile of cash for his campaign and has no ethical qualms about shoving his opposition deeply into the mud. Because Denham has no record of accomplishment for his district to speak of, his only strategy will be to attack and attack and bury his opponent.
Michael Eggman has an uphill battle from the standpoint that he is unknown in most of Denham’s district. Many voters decide based on first impressions and if Denham’s negative attacks hit the voters before Mr. Eggman can establish himself as a credible candidate of good moral character, he doesn’t stand much chance of winning.
The strategy of the Democrats may be to attack Denham with an equally withering barrage. Unfortunately, when both candidates are slimed, voters are even less inclined to cast a ballot. Given the Republicans’ inclination to vote no matter how bad the candidates are, a strategy against Denham that is exclusively negative will backfire. The approval rate of Congress is down to nine percent, so all of Denham’s former supporters who were capable of changing their minds have already bailed. There are no more votes to take away from Denham. Eggman needs to start earning votes. Eggman is not guaranteed to receive the votes of Denham’s alienated supporters. “None of the above” is always an alternative.
The failure of Democrat Jose Hernandez two years ago to campaign vigorously in the district was the reason for his loss. He didn’t work hard enough to earn votes. Democrats tried to win exclusively via a negative campaign and never gave voters a reason to vote for their man. In order for Eggman to win, he needs to make his face, his platform, and his presence known throughout the district. If Jeff Denham gains reelection, the reason won’t be because Denham won the campaign. It will be because Eggman lost it.