WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader John Boehner's route to the Capitol Hill summit is heading straight through the San Joaquin Valley.
In appearances Thursday in Fresno and Modesto, the Ohio congressman will raise tens of thousands of dollars for his fellow Republican and congressional candidate Jeff Denham. Denham, in turn, hopes to help elevate Boehner to House speaker, a position of real clout.
One way or another, both men are poised for something new.
"It says the leadership of Congress sees that Jeff is going to be an important part of their team," Denham's campaign consultant, Dave Gilliard, said Wednesday when asked about the dual fundraising events.
Currently a state senator with a home in Atwater, Denham is the prohibitive favorite to win the 19th Congressional District race. The district stretching from Modesto to Fresno via the Sierra Nevada is packed with GOP voters. Democrat Loraine Goodwin lacks campaign money and national support.
Denham's two fundraisers Thursday could help pay off a primary campaign debt that totaled $311,656 as of June 30, as well as prepare for the general election campaign. Denham will also be delivering $100,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
"He's demonstrating to the caucus that he's interested in being a team player," said Ted Maness, chief of staff to Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa. "He does realize that he has an obligation as an incoming member."
The fundraisers also show how Boehner is rallying the troops. To become speaker of the House of Representatives, Boehner must retain seats already held by Republicans — like California's 19th district — while picking up 39 seats currently held by Democrats.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, among others, says Republicans have "a good chance" of claiming House control. One Democratic-leaning seat that Sabato nonetheless puts within potential GOP reach is California's 11th Congressional District, including parts of San Joaquin County and currently held by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.
But if Republicans fall short in November, Boehner's own leadership could be challenged from within.
The Valley donors paying for lunch at Fresno's Pardini's Restaurant or the late afternoon reception at Modesto's Dewz Restaurant may not necessarily align themselves with Boehner's ideology. For instance, he has denounced the farm subsidies favored by the region's cotton, rice and wheat growers.
Many other Valley residents may not even know who John Boehner is. Though he has served in the House since 1991, Boehner lacks the distinctive national reputation of current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or his one-time ally, Newt Gingrich.
More than half of Americans surveyed last year told Gallup pollsters they had never heard of Boehner or had no opinion of him.
This is likely changing, though; in part, because Democrats themselves are now conjuring Boehner as the face of the opposition. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama pointedly visited Cleveland to rebut an earlier Boehner speech on the economy.
"There were no new policies from Mr. Boehner," Obama declared Wednesday. "There were no new ideas. There was just the same philosophy we already tried for the last decade, the same philosophy that led to this mess in the first place."
Both the Modesto and Fresno fundraising events offer tiered benefits, depending on the size of the contributor's check. For $4,800, a contributor earns four tickets to a V.I.P. reception, two V.I.P. photographs, 10 tickets and, for the luncheon at Pardini's, an unspecified "special guest" at the table.
McClatchy Newspapers 2010