MODESTO -- The race for California's 10th Congressional District seat is drawing national interest, wih Democrats seeing the seat held for two terms by Republican Jeff Denham as vulnerable.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ranks the race of challenger Michael Eggman third on its Red to Blue list of highly competitive races. Eggman's own polling shows Denham's lead shrinking from 26 percentage points to 8.
Eggman said the rise comes from an aggressive campaign, but widespread dissatisfaction with Congress also may be weighing down the incumbent. A Sept. 3 poll by Rasmussen Reports found only 6 percent of likely voters thought Congress was doing a good job.
"I think there's good reason for Americans to be frustrated with the gridlock," Denham said in a phone interview Friday. "It's going to take members like myself working in a bipartisan way. It's also going to take pressure on leadership to bring these issues up."
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"I think the rest of the public feels that frustration. We pay our taxes. We expect (Congress) to solve problems," Eggman said in an interview Thursday. "Both parties are standing on their goal lines when they should be legislating between the 30s."
Eggman pledges to return to the tradition of centrist "valleycrats," acknowledging he will need to work with Republicans to have traction in the House minority party. He said a political block of 54 California districts would be able to move statewide issues forward.
The 10th District seat serves Stanislaus County and a portion of south San Joaquin County. Registered voters split 40 percent Republican, 37 percent Democrat and a hefty 18 percent undeclared.
Shifting the race into national focus could bring more money to both campaigns. As of June 30, the last reporting period, Denham had raised $2.1 million to Eggman's $850,000.
Each candidate is running ads critical of the other. Denham faults Eggman's stand on water issues.
Eggman hammers Denham's vote for the government shutdown last October.
But Denham, who farmed almonds, and Eggman, a beekeeper, have many similar, ag-friendly positions.
Both favor greater water storage and lower flows devoted to fish. Both say the farm bill must address the needs of California's more diverse agriculture. Both favor immigration reform that would include a strong guest-worker program and a path to citizenship.
"We need labor, and often it's not there because of our broken immigration system," Eggman said.
"Immigration reform is critically important, including a pathway to citizenship for otherwise lawful immigrants."
A comprehensive solution "allows people to come out of the shadows and work legally," Denham said.
Though his legislation to create a pathway to citizenship through military service did not succeed, he hailed the U.S. Department of Defense for implementing it internally. "That's part of our history and heritage," he said.
That said, there is much on which they disagree.
Eggman supports the Affordable Care Act, with caveats, while Denham actively sought to dismantle it, voting repeatedly for repeal of specific sections or the entire law. But Thursday, Denham said it is now the law of the land and helping Valley residents.
"We've got to take good pieces for our community and work on the problems. We have a huge lack of access," Denham said, citing the lack of doctors taking the program's low reimbursement rates.
Eggman wants stronger safety nets, expanded food aid for the poor and a higher minimum wage. "It raises people out of poverty. It especially helps women," Eggman said. "I don't believe in trickle down. I believe in trickle up."
Denham, who served in the Air Force for 16 years, has focused on helping vets, pushing successful campaigns for access to local care when Veterans Affairs care is delayed and for universally recognized credentials for training received in the military.
Denham brings experience from two terms in the House and eight years in the state Senate to his candidacy. "I've been a strong Valley voice," he said, adding that customer service is a point of pride. "You call our office, we're going to get it done," Denham said. He grew up in Salinas and now divides his time between a home near Washington, D.C., and a Turlock address.
Eggman is a political novice, though he has a state lawmaker in the family. Eggman said his sister, Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, provided some inspiration for his run.
"It's time for some new blood and energy to go in and get things done," Eggman said. He grew up on a Turlock-area farm and graduated from Turlock High School. He now runs his beekeeping business out of the farm and has a home in Fresno County, more convenient for his wife's commute to Los Angeles.