Overview:Name recognition, funding keys to congressional race

Eight candidates vie for a spot in the general election to represent California’s newly formed 9th Congressional District.

Eight candidates vie for a spot in the general election to represent California’s newly formed 9th Congressional District, but the political waters aren’t as muddy as they might seem.

Of the four Democrats and three Republicans, as well as one registered “no party preference” candidate, on the district’s ticket for the June 7 Primary Election, one name stands out.

Democrat Josh Harder will be tough to beat, says Keith Smith, an associate professor of political science at the University of the Pacific. 

Democratic Congressman Josh Harder (second from left) is an incumbent running in a new district. (COURTESY OF HARDER CAMPAIGN)

“Harder’s not going to have any trouble,” Smith says of the congressman’s primary chances. 

Smith says Harder, who represents the former 10th District in Congress, has name recognition, funding and the right Democratic endorsements. 

Though the 9th District has expanded and been renamed, Harder enters the race as the de facto incumbent. 

Rep. Jerry McNerney, who announced earlier this year he would not run for reelection, represents the former 9th District, which consisted of north San Joaquin County, including Stockton, as well as areas of Contra Costa and Stanislaus counties. 

The new district borders encompass nearly all of San Joaquin County, including many areas Harder represented in the old 10th District. With McNerny out of the race, Harder is the only currently serving member of Congress running.

In terms of Democratic support and funding, Harder has been endorsed by the California Democratic Party and had more than $6 million on hand in his campaign fund at the end of March. That total is leaps and bounds ahead of his competition.

One other candidate with local name recognition is Republican Tom Patti, Smith says. 

Republican San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti boasts several important endorsements. (COURTESY OF PATTI CAMPAIGN)

Patti is a former boxer and local businessman who owns Delta Cranes in Stockton. He is serving his second term representing San Joaquin County Supervisor District 3.

According to his campaign website, Patti has been endorsed by the Central Valley Impact Republicans, Central Valley Taxpayers Association, Stockton Police Officers’ Association,

Stockton Professional Firefighters Local 456 and San Joaquin Deputy Sheriffs Association. 

Though the California Republican Party has yet to publicly throw its support behind a candidate in the race, myriad local and state elected officials have also given Patti their endorsements, as well as former 10th District Congressman Jeff Denham, whom Harder unseated in 2018.

Patti also comes in second at funding, having raised more than $500,000 as of March 31. 

“The fact that (Patti) has won elected office previously, that he has institutional support, such as it is in the district, puts him at an advantage,” Smith says. 

But none of the other Democrats running likely stand a chance against Harder, Smith says. 

“Harder has … got the Democratic Party support. He’s got all of the Democratic aligned groups’ support,” Smith says. “Everybody’s going to be getting the message, if they’re a Democratic voter, that Harder is the person they should be voting for.”

Party affiliation is what’s going to matter in both the June primary and November general elections, Smith says, noting that a vast majority of voters are going to vote their party.

The California Secretary of State says about 43% of District 9’s nearly 378,000 registered voters are Democrats; 29%, Republicans.

(Find a complete list of Harder’s endorsements here.)

Smith concedes that there’s always room for surprises in an election. 

“So some misstep on the part of a candidate or some event that’s completely outside the candidate’s control, some change in the national mood — something,” Smith says. “But that hasn’t happened in this contest. … So far, it’s been a fairly boring contest without any major hiccups.”

Harder also has the edge in the November General Election, Smith says. Though the region does have some conservative tendencies, such as a large focus on agriculture, Smith says the region has a Democratic lean.

California’s 9th Congressional District

Both of the previous districts that encompassed San Joaquin County have recently been represented in Congress by Democrats. McNerney was first elected to the former 9th District in 2012, when the last redistricting took place. Harder won the 10th District seat in 2018, defeating four-term incumbent Denham.

But other candidates in the race disagree with this assessment.

Other candidates: Don’t count us out

Progressive Democratic candidate Harpreet Singh Chima says he found during canvassing that Patti may have a lot of name recognition but he can’t say the same for Harder.

“When we’ve been going out, I always get asked, ‘So you’re running against Tom Patti?’” Chima says, adding that doesn’t happen a lot when it comes to Harder.

Though his campaign hasn’t done any official polling, Chima says it’s odd that in a Democratic primary voters would be asking if he’s running against a Republican instead of another Democrat. Chima also gets stopped on the street in relation to his campaign because people recognize him, he says.

“We might just get blown out, but anecdotal evidence from talking to people and our texting and phone banking and canvassing, it seems like we have pretty good name ID,” Chima says. “I think we’re in pretty good shape, to be honest.”

Republican James Shoemaker says there are people all over the county who have no idea who Patti is or are unhappy with him and that Harder is the wrong choice for the district.

Shoemaker says he has lived in the community for more than three decades, raising his family in the region, as well as having started a few businesses and been politically active as a volunteer in campaigns over the years.

“My name has been out there for over 30 years. There’s people from one end of this county to the other that do know me,” Shoemaker says. “I may not have talked to ‘em in 10 years, or eight years. But mention my name, they’re gonna remember me.”

Harder also continues to face criticisms of being an outsider, with candidates noting his ties to the Bay Area and the fact that he’s only recently moved to San Joaquin County following redistricting. The congressman is originally from Turlock in Stanislaus County and previously served as vice president of Bessemer Venture Partners, a venture capital firm with an office in San Francisco.

“Did Turlock all of a sudden get wiped away from any district representation? Of course not,” Patti says. “(Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi and Josh Harder have made a politically strategic decision to move Josh here to take this region.”

However, Harder says that his family has lived in and around San Joaquin County for five generations. He notes that his twice great-grandfather started a peach farm in Manteca circa 1850. 

That “is a long time and in the last 170 years we haven’t gone all that far,” Harder says.

Smith says that it makes sense for Harder to run for the 9th District and that he has weathered similar criticisms in the past when campaigning for his previous district.

“I think there’s enough overlap between the old district and the new district for Congressman Harder,” Smith says. 

The new 9th District now covers nearly all of San Joaquin County, except Lathrop, as well as some smaller portions of Contra Costa and Stanislaus counties. Districts are redrawn every 10 years in accordance with the U.S. Census, and California saw significant changes to many districts after losing a congressional seat for the first time in its history.

Harder’s former 10th District, in addition to Stanislaus County, encompassed southern areas of San Joaquin County, including Tracy, Manteca, Ripon and Escalon. Many of these areas have been included in the new 9th District, while the rest of Harder’s former district is now in the new 13th District, including Turlock. The 13th starts in areas at the tip of southern San Joaquin County and stretches down nearly the entire length of the southern Central Valley.

“The person who is going to be elected to represent the 13th is going to have a different focus and different orientations than Congressman Harder had when he was representing the 10th, just because of how the new district is constructed,” Smith says. “Whereas the 9th, you know, it lost a little bit of Contra Costa County and added a little bit more of San Joaquin County, but it’s not fundamentally a different district.”

Harder says many of the issues 9th District voters are concerned about are similar to those of his former district, such as cost of living, skyrocketing housing prices and gas prices recently soaring to $6 per gallon. He also says many of his previous voters live in the new district.

“It’s (the district) also a good reflection of the values and the issues I’ve been focused on for the last couple of years,” Harder says.

But Smith notes that Harder will have to work to get his name out in a large swath of the district previously represented by McNerney and unfamiliar with him. Harder’s brand of politics is also different from what that part of the district is accustomed.

“McNerney kind of used to be one of the more moderate members of Congress, but gradually his voting became more liberal. But he’s never been a firebrand,” Smith says, which contrasts Harder’s more outspoken style. “Is Harder’s brand of politics gonna play in kind of the Stockton-Tracy area? We’ll see.”  

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