Democratic candidates vying for a shot to represent California's 10th Congressional District had their first chance to make an impression on voters Wednesday night at the Assyrian American Civic Club in Turlock, where they gathered on stage for their first debate ahead of the June primary election.
Six of the eight Democratic challengers looking to unseat Congressman Jeff Denham next fall discussed their plans for the country's healthcare and the economy during a series of question rounds, where two candidates were called up at a time to answer questions, as well as give a rebuttal to their opponent's response. Participating in the debate were:
• Tracy nurse and former Riverbank City Council member Dotty Nygard;
• Turlock native and investor Josh Harder;
• Modesto engineer and small-businessman TJ Cox;
• Lawyer and Navy veteran Mike Barkley;
• Former Riverbank Mayor Virginia Madueño;
• Former Ninth Congressional District staff member Mateo Morelos Bedolla.
Rather than a debate meant to encourage discourse between the six candidates, organizer Jessica Self reminded the audience and debate participants before the first question that the event was meant to unify the local Democratic Party toward their common goal: flipping District 10 from red to blue in the November 2018 election.
With the U.S. Senate preparing to vote on another Obamacare repeal in the coming days, healthcare was the topic on everyone's minds as each candidate stepped up to the podium, and all six agreed: the country needs a universal, single-payer healthcare plan to ensure care for all. Many, including Cox, pointed to Denham's vote for the last Obamacare repeal as an act of betrayal toward his constituents, of which over 110,000 are projected to lose healthcare coverage in the event of a full repeal.
"It's not only healthcare Denham wants to take away from us," said Cox, whose nonprofit organization has built healthcare clinics throughout the Valley. "It's our dignity."
Nygard expressed the pain of seeing families in her emergency rooms that can't afford care when explaining her passion behind a universal healthcare plan, and added that a single-payer system could also help lower the cost of prescription drugs by putting bargaining power back into the hands of Medicare.
Madueño shared with the crowd her plight as a citizen with a preexisting condition. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, she was able to get covered.
"For four years I was treated like a second-class citizen because I did not have health insurance," said Madueño. "I'm going to fight for you like I would fight for me...healthcare should not be a privilege, but a necessity."
When it came to questions about the state and regional economy, the candidates were in agreeance once again: economy is stimulated with the creation of living wage jobs. Harder, a vice president in Bessemer Venture Partners' San Francisco office, spoke of the importance of job creation in the Valley.
"I will knock on every door and let people know they should be building their businesses here in the Central Valley," said Harder. National companies, like the home-cooking meal service Blue Apron, should be getting products like nuts from the number one producer of nuts in the world, he added.
According to pre- and post-debate audience polls conducted by Our Revolution Turlock, shift in support from "unlikely" to "likely" was greatest for Cox and Madueño, and Nygard was the only candidate who was able to turn a substantial number of "unlikely" supporters into "very likely" supporters.
The debate, hosted by the CD10 Democratic Candidates Debate Team, was one of three debates to be held before the California Democratic Party votes to endorse a candidate in January.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is looking to unseat over 60 Republicans next year - seven of whom are Californians, including Denham. After Denham defeated Democratic challenger Michael Eggman last year, despite an excess of funding from the DCCC, the committee has refocused their efforts on California's 10th District, naming it as one of the seven Republican-held areas in the state that they plan to target.