The West

GOP wants to knock off Josh Harder, but the California Democrat has more cash than anyone else

In a California congressional district Republicans are hoping to reclaim, the latest campaign fundraising reports suggest the GOP is going to have a hard time unseating Democratic Rep. Josh Harder.

Harder, D-Turlock, has consistently outraised Republicans in the race by huge margins. New reports for the third quarter of 2019 are no different.

Harder raised about $757,000 in the third quarter, ending with about $2 million in cash on hand. He’s raised about $2.5 million total this cycle — making him one of the top fundraising incumbents among both Republicans and Democrats.

Mike Lynch, a Democratic strategist based in the San Joaquin Valley, said he thinks the numbers make Harder “virtually unbeatable.”

“It matters — it’s an enormous difference,” said Lynch, who does not work for Harder. “It’s a sign that Congressman Harder is continuing to expand his reach and his depth, if you couple that with what he’s doing in the district with his outreach and his town halls and his whole program of meeting and connecting with people.”

Harder was one of seven Democrats in 2018 who flipped California congressional districts formerly held by Republicans. Harder defeated former Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock.

Ted Howze, a Republican and former Turlock city councilman who declared early on that he would challenge Harder, raised about $113,000 in the third quarter and has about $700,000 in cash on hand.

Howze raised about $300,000 total this cycle, with the bulk of his money coming from a personal loan Howze made to his campaign totaling about $600,000.

Tim Rosales, a spokesman for Howze’s campaign, said Howze “doesn’t need to out-fundraise Josh Harder.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything different at this early stage in the campaign. Josh Harder has built a national fundraising operation and is benefiting from contributions through ActBlue and special interest leadership PACs,” Rosales said. “A vast majority of Dr. Howze’s contributions come from local Valley donors and additionally Ted is committed to investing personally what he needs to in order to be competitive and defeat Harder.”

San Joaquin County Supervisor Bob Elliott, another Republican challenging Harder, raised about $93,000 in the third quarter and ended with about $200,000 in cash on hand. His campaign owes about $10,000 in loans and he’s raised a total of about $250,000 total this cycle.

“Bob Elliott’s campaign has the most debt-free cash compared to the other Republicans in the election,” said campaign spokesman Landon Whitney. “Our opponents have been running since December of last year.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee listed Harder as a top target in the 2020 cycle. Incumbents typically raise more money than challengers, but Harder’s warchest is particularly large for a freshman congressman.

It’s unlikely at this stage that other challengers would jump into the race, though it’s not impossible.

Lynch said part of Harder’s fundraising prowess could come from his history as a venture capitalist before he became a congressman.

“The numbers aren’t normal, his professional approach in the district is not normal, his base in the district is not normal, his social media presence is not normal,” Lynch said of Harder. “If you’re in your first term in Congress, he’s your role model.”

Related stories from McClatchy DC

Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.