LOS ANGELES (AP) — First-time candidate Josh Harder defeated four-term Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham following an updated vote count Tuesday, giving Democrats their fourth pickup of a GOP House seat in California.
Harder, 32, a venture capitalist, had anchored his campaign to Denham’s vote against the Affordable Care Act, while arguing that he would push for universal health care in Congress. He also argued that Denham and other Washington Republicans ignored poverty and health care in the agricultural 10th District in California’s Central Valley
With votes continuing to be counted, Harder’s edge has grown after Denham grabbed a slim lead on Election Day. After the latest update, Harder had a 4,919-vote lead out of about 185,000 votes counted, a margin too large for the congressman to overcome with remaining votes.
The 51-year-old Denham had depicted Harder as a liberal, Silicon Valley insider whose values were more closely aligned with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi than a district known for producing cherries and almonds. An ad he posted on Twitter labeled Harder “extreme.”
The contest was one of a string of showcase battles in California in Republican districts that were targeted by Democrats after Hillary Clinton carried them in the 2016 presidential election.
Denham’s seat is the fourth of those districts picked up by Democrats since Election Day. Two other contests remain too close to call.
For state Republicans, Denham’s defeat marked another setback in a state where the party has been drifting toward irrelevance for years. Democrats hold every statewide office, a supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature and a 3.7-million advantage in voter registrations.
With Harder’s win, Democrats will hold at least a 43-10 edge in California U.S. House seats.
“Josh Harder is going to care about people who agree with him and disagree with him. I think he’s going to listen to us,” said California Democratic Party volunteer Lisa Battista.
While Democrats call it a triumph, Stanislaus Republican Chair James DeMartini called it a Pelosi purchase.
“He’s going to be owing his soul to Nancy Pelosi and her liberal ideas but you know we’ll live with it. We’ll come back another day and try to replace him,” DeMartini told FOX40 over the phone.
“He outspent Jeff Denham, but they also, the Democrats also outworked the Republicans in this race,” said political consultant Lee Neves.
Neves commended Democrats for using same-day voting registration to their advantage.
“They were prepared for that and they took advantage of it and the Republican party throughout the state did not,” Neves said.
Keith Smith, associate professor of political science at the University of the Pacific, said while the elections are over, Harder faces a tougher challenge ahead. He must fight for the Central Valley’s voice to be heard in Congress.
“He is a freshman member in a legislative body that does not value individuals,” Smith said.
Denham had proved a durable politician in a district 80 miles (129 kilometers) east of San Francisco with a Democratic registration edge. The former legislator first elected to the House in 2010 is known for his involvement in water issues vital to agriculture. In a tilt to his district’s heavy Hispanic population, he pushed Congress to consider a pathway for citizenship for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and stayed here illegally.
Denham won by 3 percentage points in 2016.
The race this year attracted a torrent of campaign dollars: Harder pulled in over $6 million and Denham, $4.5 million. At least 26 outside groups spent another $10 million trying to influence the race, according to California Target Book, which analyzes campaigns.
Denham attributed the close race to money pouring in from outside the district. But he became another victim in a year when Democrats regained control of the House.
Other Republican incumbents in California to lose this year include 15-term Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in the 48th District in Orange County, and Rep. Steve Knight in the 25th District, north of Los Angeles. Democrats also picked up the San Diego-area seat of retiring Republican Rep. Darrell Issa.
President Donald Trump was a factor in the GOP losses. He lost California by over 4 million votes in 2016, and many voters saw an opportunity to vote against him when they voted for Democrats.
California is home to the so-called Trump “resistance,” which has stood in opposition to his policies on the environment and immigration.
Harder, a technology investor who was born and raised in the district, said voters were looking for a check against Trump policies that have “made things worse for most people in this community.”