Republican outsiders pour millions into saving Denham

Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, right, and Democratic challenger Josh Harder, left, debate at the Carnegie Center in Turlock, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018.
Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, right, and Democratic challenger Josh Harder, left, debate at the Carnegie Center in Turlock, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. aalfaro@modbee.com

Amid lackluster fundraising numbers for vulnerable California Republican Jeff Denham compared to his Democratic challenger, GOP fundraising bigwigs are stepping in with millions of dollars of advertising buys.

Rep. Jeff Denham reported about $650,000 in donations in the third quarter, while Democrat Josh Harder collected about $3.5 million. Harder is challenging Denham for a House seat in the 10th congressional district, which voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.

The fundraising difference is one of the most significant between candidates in tossup House races in California.

Republican groups are flooding the district with advertising buys to make up the difference. They’re eager to defend a seat regarded as a tossup.

“Clearly someone on the Republican side took a poll and said, ‘Hey, we need to take some action,’” said Ron Nehring, former California Republican Party chairman and political strategist.

Tuesday, the day after campaign fundraising numbers went public, the chief fundraising arm of the congressional GOP, the National Republican Congressional Committee, announced an ad against Harder that is slated to run for two weeks in the district and cost an estimated $800,000.

It calls Harder a “Pelosi liberal” and attacks his health care stances. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, is House Democratic leader.

Before that ad was booked, the NRCC had spent about $10,000 in the district against Harder, and spent no money in direct support of Denham, according to Open Secrets, a nonpartisan campaign finance research group. Jack Pandol, an NRCC spokesman, said it is planning to spend a total of about $1.4 million in the district from this week until the election. The ad space had been reserved months ago.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a fundraising arm of House Republican leadership, is slated to spend a total of about $3.3 million in the district, most against Harder. Those ad reservations started in mid-September, according to Courtney Alexander, spokeswoman for the Congressional Leadership Fund.

Denham also received $73,000 last quarter from Protect the House, a Republican Super PAC.

Sal Russo, a Republican political strategist in California, said such groups are constantly moving money around as they strategize the best way to hold onto the House.

But a move like those in Denham’s district suggests the groups felt they needed to make sure the incumbent had enough money so his message wouldn’t get drowned in Harder ads.

“You don’t always need more money (than your opponent), but you need enough to effectively spread your message,” Russo said.

Both Denham’s and Harder’s campaigns were the beneficiaries of significant amounts of spending from outside the district last quarter. Harder received about $116,000 from in-district donations, about 3.3 percent of his funding last quarter, while Denham received about $55,000 in in-district donations, about 8.5 percent of his funding.

Harder’s most significant sources of funding are from the Bay Area, with more than $1.6 million coming from donors in areas such as San Francisco, Palo Alto and Oakland. He also received more than $600,000 from donors in the state of New York.

Denham focused on those numbers in a statement to McClatchy asking about outside funding in the district.

“It’s obvious where Josh Harder’s priorities lie, with Bay Area liberals who are pumping millions of dollars in to his campaign,” Denham said.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, congressional Democrats’ fundraising arm, has spent about $1.6 million so far in the race against Denham and in support of Harder.

Denham’s most significant source of funding was from the Washington, D.C. metro area, about $160,000. That’s about a quarter of his fundraising for last quarter.

Kate Irby: 202-383-6071; @KateIrby