Editor's note, Nov. 14: The Associated Press has called the race for Democratic challenger Josh Harder.
Updated 6:10 p.m.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, continued to cling to a slight lead over Democratic challenger Josh Harder on Wednesday in the Central Valley’s closely watched 10th Congressional District.
Denham was up by 1,287 votes, or 1.2 percent, as of late Wednesday afternoon, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. That fact, plus the estimated tens of thousands of ballots yet to be counted, made the race still too-close-to-call.
Neither campaign had made a final call.
“We’re optimistic,” Josh Whitfield, Denham’s campaign manager, told Capital Public Radio. He added the campaign expects it could be days or weeks before a final tally is completed.
Harder told his supporters at a downtown Modesto event Election Night he was encouraged by the enthusiasm his campaign generated.
“We ran a campaign that should be a blueprint for how the rest of the country should look,” said Harder, who made health care a focus of his campaign. “The work we’ve done here has laid the foundation for a new Central Valley.”
Denham was first elected to Congress in 2010 and has received strong support from the area’s farmers. Throughout the campaign and at Tuesday’s election event, the incumbent painted Harder as a Bay Area liberal.
Harder grew up in Turlock and is a fifth-generation Valley resident. He worked at venture capital firms in Boston and San Francisco and returned to the district last year to challenge Denham. The newcomer repeatedly criticized Denham for his vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and its protections for pre-existing conditions.
Democrats have long targeted the district, which Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 presidential election. It includes slightly more Democrats than Republicans and includes the cities of Manteca, Modesto, Tracy, Turlock and Oakdale.
Harder’s supporters said they were nervous about the early results.
Luis Antillon, a 20-year-old Stanislaus State student and campaign staffer for Harder, said he’ll walk away disappointed if his candidate can’t close the gap. Watching Democrats retake control of the House, however, left him energized.
“But it’s still exciting to see that [Harder] is still alive, and that people are voting and their voices are being heard,” he said.
Modesto Bee opinion page editor Mike Dunbar said Denham faced his strongest challenge yet in Harder. Even so, Dunbar said “I think Jeff is going to survive at the end of the day.” Dunbar’s paper endorsed Harder.
If Denham does hang on, he can thank some of his attacks on Harder, said Stanislaus State Political Science Professor Stephen Routh.
“He knows how to run really effective campaigns," Routh said. "You look at the ads he put forth, hitting Harder effectively on the abortion question. Hitting Harder effectively on he’s from the Bay Area. He’s not one of us.”
Lee Lundrigan, Stanislaus County’s registrar of voters, said Wednesday she did not know when all the ballots would be counted, noting the county has until Dec. 6 to certify the election. She said “multiple thousands” of ballots dropped off or mailed on Election Day were still being processed.
“They will keep coming through Friday,” she said of the mailed ballots.