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Valley’s new Democratic congressman thanks his volunteers. He’s in San Francisco

‘We’re going to create a pattern of trust:’ Josh Harder on campaign, election and what you should expect

Josh Harder, congressman-elect for California's 10th district, beat out incumbent Jeff Denham in the midterm election on Nov. 6, 2018.
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Josh Harder, congressman-elect for California's 10th district, beat out incumbent Jeff Denham in the midterm election on Nov. 6, 2018.

The Covo coworking space in the trendy SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco is at least an hour’s drive from Rep. Josh Harder’s Modesto-area congressional district — far more with traffic.

But that’s where the first-term Democratic congressman is slated to appear Friday night, for a “volunteer thank you reception” co-hosted by some of San Francisco’s most prominent party activists and donors. The invitation also features fellow Central Valley Rep. T.J. Cox of Fresno, although a spokesman for his campaign said he would not be attending.

The event is a reminder of how significant a role Bay Area Democrats continue to play in boosting the party’s chances in the neighboring Central Valley, where it’s much harder to marshal volunteer armies and deep-pocketed donors.

According to the online invitation, the reception is intended as a thank you to Harder and Cox’s “many volunteers in San Francisco who called, texted, door-knocked and supported their election last November.” Attendees will get to “learn about their work with Speaker Pelosi and the many other newly-elected House members in the 2018 Blue Wave that we worked so hard to build.”

Dan Pfeiffer, former communications director for President Obama and co-host of the political podcast Pod Save America, is billed as a “special speaker.”

Among the co-hosts listed on the invitation are Democratic Party delegates, organizers and fundraisers, including Esprit co-founder and Democratic mega-donor Susie Tompkins Buell.

Last year marked a high point for Democratic activism in California and around the country, primarily as a backlash to President Donald Trump’s 2016 election. Many were first-time political volunteers, eager to send a message to Washington by sending Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives.

With all of the Bay Area’s congressional districts in Democratic hands and Democrats heavily favored in virtually all of California’s 2018 statewide elections, the area’s liberals turned their attention to Republican-held congressional districts in the nearby Central Valley. Republican Jeff Denham’s 10th District around Modesto and David Valadao’s 21st District around Fresno were the top two targets.

Harder, in particular, benefited from the support of Bay Area Democrats in 2018, raising roughly half of his funds from San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose metro areas in his first run for office, according to campaign finance site OpenSecrets.org.

Bay Area volunteers, working with liberal organizing groups like Indivisible and Swing Left, poured into 10th District in the months leading up to 2018 election, where they helped turn out voters for Harder’s campaign. In the end, he defeated Denham by nearly 5 percentage points.

Cox’s race against Valadao was even closer. It wasn’t until nearly three weeks after election day in November that the Fresno businessman was declared the winner, by a margin of less than 1 percent. While Cox isn’t quite the fundraising juggernaut that Harder has been, he still pulled in nearly $3 million for his 2018 campaign, more than $800,000 of which came from the Bay Area. Another $366,000 came from Los Angeles, according to Open Secrets.

Their fundraising early on in the 2020 campaign cycle demonstrates that there hasn’t been much of a letdown among Democratic donors, as the fight shifts from winning back control of the House to holding onto a Democratic majority.

Harder, a former Silicon Valley venture capitalist, picked up right where he left off in 2019, raising a massive $874,000 in the first three months of the year, more than half of which came from the Bay Area, campaign finance records show.

On Sunday, Harder is headed to Oakland for a fundraiser hosted by local Rep. Barbara Lee as well as groups including Swing Left East Bay. Suggested contributions range from $100 to $5,600, according to the invitation, which was obtained by McClatchy.

Roughly a quarter of Cox’s donations came from the Bay Area in the first quarter of 2019.

In a statement, Harder’s campaign noted that over the two-week congressional recess that ends this weekend, “Josh has held four town halls, two one-on-one office hour sessions, and 12 public events — including announcing his tailor-made bill to address water issues in the Central Valley. Josh appreciates any support people want to give, but his primary focus is always on helping folks at home and setting a new standard of accessibility.”

Cox spokesman Francois Genard said Cox will be “in the Central Valley talking about the needs for affordable health care,” rather than making the two-plus hour trip up to San Francisco.

“We are certainly thankful for the support received from the Bay Area donors/volunteers but we are also equally thankful for the support we received from donors/volunteers from LA area,” Genard said in a statement.

Both Harder and Cox are top targets for Republicans looking to win back congressional seats in California in 2020. Harder already has three declared GOP challengers, while Republicans have yet to field an opponent to Cox.

The Republican party is likely to hammer both men for raising money and drawing support from outside their districts, as Denham and Valadao did relentlessly in 2018. It didn’t help either Republican keep his seat.

Update: This story was updated to reflect the fact that Congressman Harder’s campaign erred in listing Indivisible Berkeley as a co-host of their Oakland fundraiser. The group did not participate in the event.

Sophia Bollag contributed to this report.

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Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and policy for McClatchy’s California readers. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.

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