WASHINGTON — Republican Jeff Denham is the odds-on favorite to become the San Joaquin Valley's newest congressman, but he still has his work cut out for him this week.
Denham is busy raising campaign money and his political profile in his first Capitol Hill trip since winning the GOP primary in the 19th Congressional District. He has debts to clear, political professionals to meet and strategies to refine.
"This is certainly a different world than Sacramento," Denham said Thursday. "In the same way I've built relationships in Sacramento, I'm going to have to do so here."
Currently a state senator and rancher from Atwater, Denham beat former congressman Richard Pombo, former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson and current Fresno City Councilman Larry Westerlund in the June 8 primary. The GOP primary is all but certain to determine the final winner in the Republican-dominated district that encompasses parts of Fresno, Modesto and the Sierra Nevada.
Denham will face Democrat Loraine Goodwin, a Madera Unified School Board member, in the November general election. Goodwin reported spending about $24,000 on her primary campaign, all of it her own money. Denham reported raising $687,805 through mid-May.
National Democrats are essentially leaving Goodwin to her own devices, while Denham is meeting with party leaders.
Following some cross-country mishaps, including being bumped from one flight and having another flight diverted to Minneapolis, Denham arrived in Washington on Wednesday night. He was introduced around to other California Republicans at the state delegation's weekly lunch Thursday, and huddled with National Republican Congressional Committee staff.
"It's his opportunity to start building relationships with people and organizations that he'll be working with," noted Ted Maness, chief of staff for Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.
Radanovich's retirement announcement made in December opened the way for Denham's candidacy, and Radanovich actively supported Denham during the contested GOP primary.
Denham said it's too early to discuss certain topics, like committee assignments — although he said the House Agriculture Committee would be a favored spot. Money, on the other hand, is explicitly part of the D.C. trip.
Denham reported owing $296,837 as of May 19, the most recent filing period. Of this, $70,000 covers a personal loan he had made to the campaign and the remainder covers debts to various political consultants and campaign professionals.
He was going to pick away at the debt with a $1,000-a-head fundraising event scheduled for Thursday night, hosted by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield. McCarthy initially endorsed Denham, switched sides to back Pombo and has since returned to Denham's camp.
The event, called an "intimate fundraising dinner," was scheduled to be held at Jordan's 8, which describes itself as a "very sleek steakhouse and sushi restaurant" several blocks from the Capitol.
Once he's settled his campaign debts and set aside funds for the general election campaign, Denham said he hopes to raise additional dollars that he can distribute to other Republicans who face tougher election bids than he does.
"Just going to Congress is not enough for me," Denham said. "I want to serve in the majority."
Some political relations, though, may still need mending. Denham said he hasn't yet met with Rep. Devin Nunes, the Visalia Republican who publicly denounced Denham's campaign tactics — although Denham added that "we certainly need to sit down." Denham added that he hasn't yet heard back from Pombo or Patterson despite having "reached out" to the losing candidates.