Photo: Republican San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti (left) is taking in Democratic Rep. Josh Harder (File photo)
With Election Day finally arrived, here is a look at how San Joaquin County’s largest race may end.
Democratic Rep. Josh Harder is facing off against San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti, a former boxer and local Republican businessman, to represent the newly-formed 9th Congressional District.
Though the county tends to lean Democratic, some say the race may be closer than originally expected. Stocktonia spoke with Keith Smith, an associate professor of political science at University of the Pacific, to understand which way the district may ultimately vote.
He says Harder, who represents the former 10th Congressional District and is considered the de facto incumbent, has an advantage over his opponent.
“If I were a betting person, which I am absolutely not, my bet would be on Harder winning,” Smith said.
District 9, formed during California’s most recent redistricting process following the decennial U.S. Census, is largely an expanded version of its former self that included north San Joaquin County, including Stockton, and areas of Contra Costa and Sacramento counties. South San Joaquin County was part of the former 10th District now repped by Harder.
Both of these previous districts have recently been represented in Congress by Democrats. McNerney, who will retire after his current term expires in January, 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 Republican incumbent Jeff Denham.
The new 9th District now encompasses nearly all of San Joaquin County, except Lathrop, as well as some smaller portions of Contra Costa and Stanislaus counties.
Smith has previously said that California’s recent redistricting largely favored Democratic candidates. But the region has since seen the number of registered Republicans increase and Democrats decrease.
According to state data, just over 43% of the new 9th District’s more than 381,000 registered voters are Democrats as of Oct. 24, while just 28% are Republican. In the 2020 General Election, about 45% of the former 9th District’s more than 395,000 voters were registered Democrats, with 27% registered as Republican.
The county’s voter makeup in terms of political affiliation generally bodes well for Harder. Smith said every election, including smaller local elections, have become nationalized, with voters more or less aligning with their respective political party.
“When people vote for Congress, they’re not voting for Harder or Patti, they’re voting Democrats versus Republicans,” Smith said.
And he says that’s been the growing trend in recent elections.
“Even like a decade ago, you as a candidate could distinguish yourself and run a local campaign. It was hard, but you could do it and be successful,” Smith said. “It is increasingly difficult to do that at any level.”
However, Smith says there are some factors that play in Patti’s favor this election, including local name recognition and that Americans are generally unhappy with Democrats, who are currently taking heat for issues at the national level, such as high inflation and soaring gas prices.
“The public’s mood across the nation is, ‘I don’t like what’s happening and the Democrats are in charge,’” Smith said. “Any Republican is going to have an easier time than the Democrats right now. Even if he’s got a relatively safe district, he’s still gonna get challenged and the vote might be closer than it would be in say two years.”
Historical voting patterns show that in midterm elections the president’s political party generally loses control of one or both of the chambers of Congress. (Look here for an assessment of historical midterm election voting patterns conducted by Reuters.) And this midterm election is not expected to be any different, with predictions showing Republicans likely taking back the majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate being described as “up for grabs.”
Some political analysis has also indicated the race may not be totally in the bag for Harder. A July poll featured on the political news website and polling data aggregator Real Clear Politics describes the contest as a “tie,” and moved the race last month from the “Leans Dem” column to a “Toss Up,” though it didn’t point to any additional or updated polling data to justify the reclassification. Politico, an online news publication that focus on politics and policy, also changed its rating of the race from “likely Democratic” in April to “lean Democratic” in August.
But Smith says those classifications were based on data that may not be reliable indicators of whom voters will ultimately choose when they show up to the polls (or their mailboxes) this election.
Not only was the featured poll conducted during the summer, Smith said, but it was administered by a Republican-leaning polling firm called RMG Research Inc. The firm has been accused in the past of having “a pro-GOP bias” when conducting its polls. Though FiveThirtyEight, a polling and statistics aggregation website, gave the company a B- in a pollster ratings analysis published in 2021 and found that RMG’s polls correctly called 76% of the races analyzed.
Smith also noted that Politico based its classification change on the nearly equal percentage of voters who chose a Republican or Democratic candidate in the summer primary for the District 9 race.
Nearly 49% of voters who cast ballots in June supported a Republican candidate, according to San Joaquin County election data. About 51% supported a Democratic candidate.
But that’s typical of a primary election, Smith said.
“Even in a state like California, … we would expect Republicans to do better in the June election than in the November election,” Smith said. “When people aren’t really thinking in pure partisan terms and the electorate is going to be more Republican than you otherwise might expect.”
Research has shown that participation in primary elections is also consistently lower than in a general election.
The San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters reports that just under 29% of all registered voters in the county cast ballots during the Primary Election. And the largely Democratic county makes up nearly 97% of District 9 registered voters.
However, Smith said Republican momentum being predicted across the country this go around won’t likely be enough to propel Patti to Washington D.C. Joe Biden carried the 9th District by 13 points in 2020, Smith said, and though the Democratic congressman may not lead by such a wide margin at the end of the day, Harder is still more likely than not to win the seat.
For those looking for an indicator of how the race will turn out as Election Day comes to a close in a state that can take up to a month to tally votes, Smith says people should turn to result races in other states where the ballot counting doesn’t take as long.
“If you see Republicans winning contests that they otherwise weren’t expected to win, and the narrative becomes it’s a Republican wave year, then Patti has a chance,” Smith said. “But if Republicans are picking up a seat here or there, and otherwise it’s basically the status quo, then I’m not going to be expecting Patti to win.”