Locked in a fierce battle to retain his 10th Congressional District seat, Turlock incumbent Jeff Denham got a boost Thursday when Speaker of the House Paul Ryan dropped into Modesto for a brief appearance at his campaign headquarters.
Denham is on the Nov. 8 ballot for re-election as Democratic Party money has furiously poured in to fund a barrage of mailers and TV and radio ads on behalf of Democrat Michael Eggman, a Turlock beekeeper and farmer. Speaker Ryan urged the crowd of supporters and campaign volunteers to turn off the TV and pay attention to "the ideas of this election."
"We're trying to make this an ideas contest," said Ryan. "A lot of elections, especially in the closing 12 days ... it becomes a personality contest. Don't forget that underneath this is an ideas contest."
Citing polls that indicate that 70 percent of Americans "don't like the direction the country is going," Ryan said the GOP has laid out a positive agenda for the future. He said Republicans have a plan to replace Obamacare to allow people to "buy what you need and what you want at a better price." He said the GOP plan to overhaul the tax code would create 1.7 million jobs and almost 10 percent growth in the economy.
The Wisconsin congressman and speaker championed Denham as a champion of agriculture, a strong defense and military veterans.
"This man is a work horse," Ryan said of Denham. "This man is a doer. Jeff Denham is already one of our quarterbacks on fixing some of your biggest problems here. He is the one making sure that the farmers get the water they need so they can keep people employed here."
The speaker praised Denham for helping to fix the Defense Department's call for California service men and women to pay back enlistment bonuses.
"He took action and got the DOD to stop this business," said Ryan.
Denham said he remains vigilant about coming up with water storage projects and expanding ag exports to create more jobs.
Fearing that Trump's unpopularity in California could pull down veteran House Republicans, Ryan was scheduled to appear at 14 campaign events in California over a three-day swing. Ryan flew into the Modesto Airport and motored to Denham's McHenry Avenue headquarters. Greeting him were Sheriff Adam Christianson, a security detail and one identified man donning a Donald Trump mask and holding a sign reading, "There is no drought, believe me." It was in reference to the remark Trump made on May 27 in Fresno in which he criticized the state for releasing farmers' water for the existence of the Delta smelt.
After Ryan's remarks, a group of high school students volunteering to man 42 phone calls for the Denham campaign gathered around the speaker for selfies and autographs. The group included Ceres High School students Alexis Bonilla, Noelle Barrios, Jasmine Barragan, Diego Diaz and Jose Avilos. Many of the students collectively making over 40,000 calls per week for Denham are getting in volunteer hours to satisfy graduation requirements.
Supervisor Jim DeMartini of Ceres attended the event as did Alyssa Long of Ceres, who interned this past summer at Denham's Washington, D.C. office.
This election marks Eggman's second attempt to defeat Denham. He lost his 2014 bid to by a margin of 43.9 percent to 56.1 percent. Most of the anti-Denham mailers have sought to link Denham to Trump, who remains unpopular in a state where Democrat registration is 44.8 percent versus a 27.3 Republican registration. Stanislaus County voters, however, are mostly split between Democrats and Republicans with Democrats having a 4,639 voter advantage. Another 56,026 county voters either don't have a party preference or belong to other parties.
Denham is taking no chances, saying the campaign goal is to hit every precinct three times instead of the two originally planned.
Insiders say Ryan, who ran as Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate four years ago, is embattled to retain his speakership. Ryan, who became Speaker a year ago when John Boehner retired in the face of GOP discontentment, has publicly squabbled with Trump. Ryan has distanced himself from Trump as Democrats see Trump as a convenient way to pick off Republican seats. Democrat Party money has bankrolled TV ads and about 10 mailers trying to link Denham with Trump. Trump's corporation won the bid to rehabilitate the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C. after Denham pushed for use of aging and abandoned government buildings.
Denham, however, had nothing to do with the Obama Administration awarding the contract to Trump.
On Friday, PolitiFact, an independent, non-partisan campaign ad rating organization called the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's ad claiming Denham "helped broker" a hotel deal for the Trump development company is false. They concluded: "But there's no indication, and no evidence from the DCCC, that Denham had any direct role in choosing Trump as the developer. The DCCC advertisement greatly exaggerates Denham's role in the process and falsely describes him as helping "broker" the deal. We rate the claim "False"."
"Campaigns used to be about an exchange of ideas and it's been disappointing in this campaign that from a national perspective it seems to be a personality contest or who can tear who down the worst rather than right here at home talking about issues like water and infrastructure which are important," said Denham.
When asked to comment about Eggman hit piece mailers insinuating Denham is getting rich from serving in Congress, Denham said this: "It is certainly disappointing that you would criticize anybody for trying to create more jobs in our local community. But secondly my wife and I have a small farm, we have a small business and we actually dream about the day we can pay off our debt. But I don't back away from the fact that we hire people and then create jobs in the Valley. I think that's important and something he should not only embrace but he should try doing himself." He then slyly added, "In Kingsburg, where he lives."
When asked to clarify, Denham said Eggman voted there in the last election. He also added, "I haven't seen him in two years."