Seven Democrats and one Independent candidate sought to win the favor of a capacity crowd at Stanislaus State University on Thursday in order to prove themselves as the best challenger to Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) in the 2018 election.
Among the field of eight, the majority of candidates have staked health care as their primary issue, however, the candidates began to vary on what kind of health care system they want to see implemented.
Democratic candidates Josh Harder, Mike Barkley, T.J. Cox, Mateo Morelos Bedolla and Dotty Nygard and independent Terra Snover advocated for a single-payer health care system, such as Medicare for all. Pressed to choose between fixing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or move toward a single-payer system, Harder emphasized that although the ACA was able to cover a large number of people, a policy such as Medicare for all would be better able to provide universal health coverage.
"I think either way we have to fight for what is the number one goal, which is universal health care coverage," said Harder. "The Affordable Care Act got us a long way. It got us to 90 percent... It didn't go to 100 percent. That's my goal. We have to do that. I think the best way to do that is through Medicare for all."
While Harder praised its ability to garner 100 percent coverage and Cox presented multiple options such as Medicaid for all on the route to Medicare for all, one of the bigger reactions of the night went to an eight-second response from an adamant Nygard.
"No question. I support single payer, a guaranteed health care system for all," Nygard asserted.
Virginia Madueno and Sue Zwahlen broke from the pack and were hesitant to fully support single payer. An unwavering Madueno was the first to dismiss single payer as the solution to healthcare problems, but she did advocate for quality, affordable and accessible health care, which was also supported by Zwahlen.
"As somebody who benefitted and who received healthcare for the first time in many years with ACA, I saw that as the beginning and not the end," responded Madueno.
"The system is absolutely broken, but I can't say that single payer is the answer either. I believe that we have to give everybody quality, accessible and affordable health care, regardless," she continued.
On immigration, Denham's ENLIST Act fell into the crosshairs of his potential challengers. The ENLIST Act would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children by allowing them to gain citizenship by joining the military. It specifically applies to children brought to the United States prior to Dec. 31, 2012.
Madueno was among the harshest critics, dismissing the act itself as nothing more than a political move.
"I think that the ENLIST Act was nothing more than tactic, a terrible political tactic to win votes, to win support," admonished Madueno, "but it really is doing nothing in terms of achieving what we need to do and that's to establish a good, fair and practical pathway to citizenship for so many, for so many students, for so many dreamers who have the right, the dignity that they have been stripped. That is what I'm going to fight for."
Standouts from the CD10 Democratic candidate debate in September, such as Cox and Madueno, remained vibrant in their appearance at Stanislaus State, however, Harder also became a standout performer in the night's debate.
His performance appeared to attract questions from protesters, some of whom had dressed in clown outfits and carried signs mocking leftwing policies. As the floor was opened for questions from the audience, Harder was targeted for a response regarding his view on sanctuary cities and potentially accepting money from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Harder believes that sanctuary policies should be left to the police departments to decide and asserted that his campaign will not take money from corporate political action committees.
The debate, held by the Stanislaus State Democratic Party Club, was the latest effort for voters to find their ideal candidate to run against Congressman Denham in 2018.
Stanislaus County Democratic Central Committee Chairman Dr. Harinder Grewal wished the candidates well, however, paused to emphasize the importance of unity for the party when it comes to unseating Denham.
"In January 2018, we will be starting the endorsement process but to beat Denham, in the future, I strongly believe we need to get behind one candidate," said Grewal. "So, do your best [and] compete, but, in the long run please keep this in mind as a Democrat, to get Denham out we need to get behind one candidate."