It’s no secret that Josh Harder’s successful campaign against Republican Congressman Jeff Denham in 2018 was a blow to Adam Gray’s political hopes. Insiders agree that Gray had planned to run against Denham in 2020, before he was termed out by the “lifetime” California term limits rule of 12 years total in office of any kind. Gray was elected to the 21st Assembly District in 2012, winning office with 58.2% of the vote.
Since then, Gray’s hold on office has only grown stronger. He was reelected in 2020 with a 59.6% majority win. Like many Valley Democrats, some of whom were showing up at Denham fundraisers just weeks before Election Day, Gray almost certainly expected Harder to lose in 2018.
Harder’s win and subsequent cruise to victory over Republican Ted Howze in 2020 upset the conventional wisdom about Valley politics, which dictates that, in order to win, Democrats must become “Blue Dogs” who follow the lead of former Congressman Gary Condit, one of the founders of the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition in 1995. Gray was formerly married to Condit’s daughter, Cadee Condit Gray. They are now divorced.
Blue Dog Democrats lean to the right. The term originated with southern Democrats from the once “solid” Democratic south, before blowback from the Civil Rights Act turned southern states bright red.
In California, Blue Dog Democrats tend to be culturally and fiscally conservative. They fall in line with Republicans in their support for liberal spending on defense, however. Grass roots Democrats, especially an emerging cadre of active young Dems, consider them Republicans.
Harder, a Valley native who was born in Turlock, rewrote the Valley’s political playbook when he ran as a conventional Democrat and won. A few Valley Democrats are still smarting from the blow to their plans and prestige. They’re especially bothered because he won without them.
Harder’s ability to win without corporate dollars and his special talent for face-to-face connection with voters represents a threat to well-established and mostly conservative channels of money and power that have run though the Valley for decades. The problem for his opponents is he can raise millions without relying on traditional sources; he’s truly a candidate of and for the people.
Shortly after redistricting changed the contours of the Valley’s political map, Josh Harder announced he would exit District 10 and run for the newly configured California Congressional District 13, which includes a large swath of Gray’s current 21st Assembly District. On January 5, a short-lived Tweet announced Gray would be running for Congress in the same district. Almost immediately, Gray spokesperson Mike Lynch discredited the claim; the Tweet disappeared shortly thereafter, but disclaimers about its origins from both Lynch and Gray didn’t end speculation about Adam Gray’s political future.
Some observers think the Tweet was a trial balloon, released as a way of testing Gray’s viability against a rising star in the Democratic Party who will be running in a newly drawn district.
If Gray were to run against Harder, it would almost certainly mean running to Harder’s right. The analogy that comes to mind is Mani Grewal’s recent primary campaign for state senate against Susan Eggman, when Grewal alienated many Democratic voters by running as “a different kind of Democrat,” different in this case meaning “right-leaning.”
Before it ended with Grewal running far behind Eggman in a needlessly expensive primary, the campaign became bitter and divisive. The only beneficiary was Republican candidate Jim Ridenour, who coasted into second place behind Eggman while spending pennies compared to Eggman’s and Grewal’s dollars. Ridenour then got thumped by Eggman.
Political memories are short, and not always to the benefit of aspiring candidates. In 2018, Josh Harder emerged triumphant from the strongest primary field of District 10 candidates in anyone’s memory, a field that included Michael Eggman, Virginia Madueno, and Sue Zwahlen. Harder then beat a long-term Republican incumbent many observers deemed invincible.
Gray versus Harder may sound enticing to right-leaning Democrats frustrated by Josh Harder’s ability to win without them, but, at the end, the only gain would be to Republicans, who would love to see an expensive bloodletting between two of the Valley’s strongest Democrats. Adam Gray can serve himself and the Democratic Party far better by looking elsewhere for a fight, perhaps against Republican Tom McClintock, who just declared for Congressional District 5, which now includes Modesto and much of Stanislaus County.
Josh Harder has proven himself worthy of Valley voters, and he’s getting stronger every day.
Frances Lopez says
Since redistricting, I am now in Congressional District 5. I would vote for Adam Gray over Tom McClintock any day.
Carlos Brionez says
Adam Gray is Tom McClintock. Both are rightwing politicians.
Bruce Frohman says
Given Adam Gray’s political experience, he would fit in very well as a County Supervisor in the County in which he resides. His knowledge of state government would enable him to secure greater funding for his County of residence. Stanislaus County certainly could use his leadership.
If Adam Gray or his staff say they did not post that Mr. Gray is thinking about running, they should be taken at their word. No shortage of right wing trolls exists. Russian funding to promote chaos seems limitless.
Damon Woods says
Well, one day, you left wing folks will have this state all to yourselves. The latest thing out of Sacramento is to raise the individual income tax above the Federal tax rate to cover Universal Health care for all. Unfortunately, those proposing government only healthcare don’t really know the pain Canadiens and EU folks deal with- such as 5+ year waits for surgeries that should happen quickly. Your Socialism dreams may come true soon, but I suggest you read George Orwell’s book : Animal Farm. Socialism could work if it weren’t for the people who run it. Over the past 100+ Years, the Democrats have put forth all sorts of programs, but rarely do they really figure out how to pay for such programs. It has been the Republicans that step in to take on ‘those details’. But, then, what will the government do if all the high income folks move out? Hmmm……
Eric Caine says
Great point Mr. Woods. Animal Farm should be required reading for everyone, especially given its relevance today. As an allegorical lesson in totalitarianism, we can see the pig Napoleon as Donald Trump, Squealer as Tucker Carlson, and Snowball as Bernie Sanders. Farmer Jones is corporate America, Boxer the horse is working America, and the sheep…. ah yes, the sheep.
Al Lucchesi says
I too believe I am now in 5th district and worry about having a fascist Republican as a congressional representative Adam Gray over McClintock anytime.
Elaine Gorman says
Yes, I am also in a different district. Sad to lose Josh, but would be glad to lose McClintock. During the last few Congressional elections, Democrats have been gaining ground in the foothill regions. Maybe by adding parts of Modesto and Stanislaus County, Democrats may have a solid chance.