In 2016, Republicans took control of the White House, House of Representatives, and Senate. Historically, the President’s party gains seats in Congress in a Presidential year and loses them in the mid-term. With 241 seats in their possession, the Republican party stands to lose a lot of ground in the upcoming mid-term season. Democrats will only need to win 23 seats to take back the House. Because California has so many toss-up elections, it has emerged as a battleground. One of these battlegrounds is California’s 10th Congressional District. Democrats will be aiming to pick off as many leaning seats as possible to finally take back control of the house of representatives.
California’s 10th Congressional District is in the middle of California’s Central Valley. This district consists of Stanislaus County and portions of San Joaquin County and the cities found within the district include Manteca, Modesto, Oakdale, Tracy, and Turlock. Major hot-button issues in CA-10 include water rights and immigration. The Central Valley is a heavily agricultural area with many farmers and is predominantly Hispanic. Latinos and Hispanics make up 43.2% of the total population, white residents come in a close second with 42.8%, followed by Asians with 6.8%.1 A little under half of the residents are between the ages of 25 and 30 years old. Typically, in Presidential elections, about 75% of the state of California votes. That number; however, goes down drastically during Gubernatorial elections, only averaging 50%.1 Political
participation in Stanislaus and San Joaquin County are dismal compared to other counties in the state; 59.5% of Stanislaus’ and 53.2% of San Joaquin County’s citizens, on average, show up to vote.1
Like the state of California as a whole, Democrats have had a tight grip on the district. Democrats have represented the district for sixteen terms compared to the Republicans’ five. Since 1992, there have been 12 years of Democrat trifectas in California.2 President Barack Obama and former Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton have carried the state and district in votes; however, The Central Valley tends to lean slightly to the right. On a federal and state level, Republican, Jeff Denham has enjoyed a great deal of success in District 10. Prior to Denham, the last Republican to win a statewide vote in this district was Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006.2 In recent elections, Denham has always managed to edge past the competition. In his freshman run, Congressman Denham ran against former NASA astronaut and Democrat; José M. Hernández. The newly redrawn district was expected to be a vibrant blue. The swing district had a 25% Latino voting age population; however, Denham defeated the odds. He lucked out with 53% of the vote to Hernández’s 47%.3 The incumbent would later go on to beat out Michael Eggman with 56.1% of the vote in 2014 and 51.7% of the vote in 2016.
California’s state voting laws are relatively lax in nature. Like all states, to exercises one’s right to vote in the state of California, one must be a U.S. citizen and California resident, as well as be at least 18 years of age on Election Day. The Secretary of state, currently Alex Padilla, is the chief election official and has ultimate authority over elections in the state.1 Conditional voter registration is available beginning 14 days before an election through Election Day. Polls in California are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Pacific Time. If an individual is in line at the time closing, they cannot be turned away and must be allowed to vote. California has certified four legacy voting systems prior to January 1st, 2005. These systems are; Mark A Vote, Inka Vote, Opto-Mark, and Datavote.2
On October 10, 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill No. 1461, also known as the New Motor Voter Act. The legislation authorized automatic voter registration in California for any individuals who visit the Department of Motor Vehicles to acquire or renew a driver’s license and was scheduled to take effect in 2016.1 In addition, California offers initiative, referendum rights and implemented an online voter registration system.2
According to the Office of the California Secretary of State, “in most cases, California voters are not required to show identification at their polling place.” A voter may be asked to provide identification if it is his or her first time voting; however, this only applies if the
individual registered by mail without providing a driver’s license number, state identification number, or the last four digits of a Social Security number.1 Additional acceptable forms of identification include driver’s licenses, utility bills, or any document sent by a government agency.1
California utilizes a top-two primary system. A top-two primary system allows all candidates to run and all voters to vote but only moves the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, to the general election. In primary elections, registered voters select a candidate that they believe should be elected to office to run in the general election. In states that do not use a top-two system, both parties are usually able to put forward a candidate for the general election.1 Unlike the top-two format used in Louisiana and Georgia, a general election between the top two candidates in California occurs regardless of whether the top candidate received 50% of the vote in the first round of elections.1
All voters are eligible to vote absentee in California. There are no eligibility requirements for voting absentee. In order to vote absentee, an absentee ballot application must be received by elections officials at least seven days prior to the election.1 The completed ballot must be received by elections official no more than three days after Election Day. An absentee ballot can also be submitted in person to elections officials by close of polls on Election Day.1
As of January 30, 2018, California, the District of Columbia and 33 other states have permitted no-excuse early voting. Early voting permits citizens to cast ballots in person at a polling place prior to an election. In states that permit no-excuse early voting, a voter does not have to provide an excuse for being unable to vote on Election Day. States that do not permit no-excuse early voting may still permit some citizens to vote early, provided they have valid reasons for doing so; this practice is known as in-person absentee voting. 1
A small number of people are unable to vote in the Golden State. To vote, an individual must not currently be found mentally incompetent to vote by a court. California recently amended its laws regarding the limitation of a person’s right to vote based on his or her mental incompetence and conservatorship status.1 Elections Code section 2208 now establishes a presumption that a person is competent to vote regardless of his or her conservatorship status. A person may be declared mentally incompetent and therefore disqualified from voting only if a court or, in certain cases, a jury finds by clear and convincing evidence that the person cannot communicate, with or without reasonable accommodations, a desire to participate in the voting process and the person is subject to a conservatorship or is gravely disabled, as specified.1 Elections Code section 2208 also prohibits a person’s disqualification from voting simply because he or she needs to sign the affidavit of registration with a mark, a cross, or a signature
stamp; completes the affidavit with help from another person or completes the affidavit with other reasonable accommodations. 1
Voting rights for convicted felons vary from state to state. In the majority of states, convicted felons cannot vote while they are incarcerated but may regain the right to vote upon release from prison or at some point thereafter. In California, voting rights are restored automatically following a release from prison or discharge from parole. If you are currently on probation, you can vote as well. The only time your right to vote is denied is if you are still in prison serving time or in a county jail under realignment.1
All eyes seem to be on California during the 2018 mid-terms. There are currently fifty-three Congressional races in the state and five of those are Republican controlled toss-ups. CA-10 appears to be the most hotly contested of the bunch. The candidates running for House of Representatives in this district are former State Senator and Republican, Jeff Denham, who has represented The Central Valley since January 2013 along with his challenger, Democrat, and businessman, Josh Harder.
Denham was a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve and the U.S. Air Force prior to his political career. For eight years (2002-2010), Denham was a state senator. He retired to become a member of Congress in the 2010 Republican wave election.2 The incumbent was originally
elected as a member for the 19th District, which included Turlock and Oakdale but omitted Modesto and stretched down the Fresno County. After California had been redistricted, he chose to run in the 10th District. Denham’s campaign website lists a few of his accomplishments in Congress. He stated that he has helped pass the Federal Asset Sale and Transfer act to “improve the management of federal property, shrink the federal government’s footprint, and save taxpayers billions of dollars.”1 He also claims to have improved the “state’s long-term climate for agriculture and business and working to expand water storage.”2
Denham has been criticized for a few of his decisions in his time as Representative. District 10 is almost equally divided between Republican and Democrat voters; however, despite the balance, Rep. Denham votes with the Republican Party 97.8% of the time.1 Because of this, nearly half of his constituents feel unrepresented. Unlike his political rival turning his nose up at PACS, Denham has embraced them. He often catches flack because 70% of the money earned in his campaign comes from PACS.2 Finally, voters think he is a hypocrite because he criticizes Harder for being too friendly with the Bay Area, but, Denham is closely linked to coastal areas as well.
Democratic, venture capitalist, Josh Harder is, for the most part, an unknown. Because he has never held elected office, he is a new face on the political scene. The newcomer’s
professional experience includes working at Bessemer Venture Partners and the Boston Consulting Group. Harder worked with the Gates Foundation and other nonprofit organizations.2 In 2017, he became a business professor at Modesto Junior College. A Turlock native, he returned home to make his first run for political office. Harder’s campaign website lists several of his priorities if he is elected. Harder has stated that if elected, he would “work with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to help our local farms and businesses prosper by investing in education and infrastructure and helping to create better-paying jobs.” Harder listed Medicare for All, immigration, and job creation among campaign priorities on his website.2
Harder cannot hide from criticism either. He is often under fire because he has received more than $1.6 million from the Bay Area.3 Voters have begun to question whether his priorities lie with them or with the Bay Area Democrats supplying him with money. Some voters are hesitant to lend him their support because he lacks experience in elective office. Harder’s stance on abortion has left numerous District 10 Independents and Republicans outraged. Harder attended a small gathering in 2017 and was approached by a man with a camera. The man asked, “So, pro-choice, full nine terms?” and Harder responds, “Yes.” The man pressed on: “No exceptions?” and Harder said, “No exceptions.” Finally, he was nowhere to be found at an important rally protesting the Bay-Delta Plan, also known to locals as “the state water grab”.4
Both candidates received noteworthy endorsements. Although Incumbent, Jeff Denham opposed President Trump and tried to force a vote on granting citizenship to Dreamers. Trump announced that his re-election campaign would donate money to Denham’s campaign.1 Josh Harder may not have received an endorsement from a sitting President; however, former President Barack Obama gave Harder his blessings. President Obama would go on to say, “These democratic candidates strengthen this country we love by restoring opportunity, repairing our alliances and standing in the world, and upholding our fundamental commitment to justice, fairness, responsibility, and the rule of law.”2
When running ads, neither candidate seemed to pull any punches. Originally, the ads started out tame. Representative Denham would mostly bring into question whether Harder had Central Valley’s best interests in mind or not. In response, Harder would typically produce TV ads showing himself working with farmers in the Central Valley. Fast forward to October 2018 and both candidates are savagely ripping into one another. Both sides have relentlessly mocked their opponent. In one mailer, Denham bashed Harder by photoshopping his head onto a Mime, with text that reads, “Let Pelosi speak for me”.3 In another ad, Harder photoshopped Denham’s head onto a farmer harvesting cash.3 Each candidate has also coined a nickname for his opponent. In one of his ads, Rep. Denham calls challenger Josh Harder “Bay Area Harder”. He
elaborates, “We call him a ‘Bay Area Liberal’ because he aligns himself with Bay Area issues, not our issues”1 In retaliation, Harder has started naming his opponent; “Do-Nothing Denham” and “Disappointing Denham”.2
California is slowly becoming one of the bluest states in the US. California has garnered a lot of attention over the last few election cycles. Races in the 10th District have been neck and neck. The GOP has nearly gone extinct in The Golden State, which has made these Republicans a perfect Democratic target. In 2016, California had 14 Republican Congressmen out of 53. On the night of and the days following the election, Denham held a lead in the reported results. On November 9th; however, a shocking reversal took place. Democrat Josh Harder sped past his opponent; Jeff Denham in the hotly contested race. The swing came after an extra 63,631 late arriving mail-in ballots were processed in Stanislaus County.3 Harder had a lead of approximately 4,900 votes when the race was called. Denham conceded on November 14th.3
Following the 2018 mid-terms, the number of Republican Congressmen in California has been cut in half. The rumored blue wave may not have crashed as violently as experts projected, but Democrats have succeeded in taking control of the house. This may not be the last District 10 sees of Jeff Denham. When a race runs as tightly as the Denham-Harder race, it could
potentially be done over again in the future. Republicans will likely be looking to take back the House in 2020 and Denham would not make a bad candidate to run against Harder once more. The former Congressman has built a strong relationship with his constituents, has more experience than Harder, and only lost by a small margin of the vote.