Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D)
Elected: 2002, 4th term.
Born: March 31, 1959, Merced .
Education: U. of MD, B.A. 1982, CA St. U. Stanislaus.
Family: Married (Kathleen McLoughlin); 3 children.
Elected office: Atwater City Cncl., 1984-86; Merced City Cncl., 1994-95; CA Assembly, 1996-2002.
Professional Career: Agribusiness owner.
The congressman from the 18th District is Dennis Cardoza, a Democrat first elected in a 2002 contest that drew international attention because of the notoriety of his predecessor, Democratic Rep. Gary Condit. Cardoza grew up in Atwater, the son of farmers who raised sweet potatoes and dairy cows. Like many people in the Central Valley, he is descended from Portuguese immigrants from the Azores Islands (as are Democrat Jim Costa of the adjacent 20th District and Republican Devin Nunes of the 21st). Interested in politics a youth, Cardoza attended the University of Maryland just outside of Washington, D.C., and interned on Capitol Hill. In the mid-1980s, he was an aide to Condit, who was then a California assemblyman; he worked on Condit’s 1989 special-election campaign and served on his Washington staff. In 1996, Cardoza was elected to the Assembly. He very likely would have remained close to Condit had it not been for the case of Chandra Levy. She was a Modesto resident who was working as an intern in the executive branch when she and Condit began having an affair. She vanished in Washington in April 2001 and was later found murdered in the city’s Rock Creek Park. Her disappearance generated saturation media coverage. It was revealed that Condit had an extramarital relationship with her, and Condit was hounded by reporters and photographers. Though Condit had nothing to do with Levy’s tragic death (she apparently was the random victim of a sexual predator), the revelations about his personal life destroyed his career. Condit had always portrayed himself as a family man and the son of a preacher. His wife was well known and beloved in the Modesto area. When it turned out that Condit had been living another life in Washington, his loyal base of support in the district evaporated.
|Dennis Cardoza (D)||Unopposed||($962,057)|
|Dennis Cardoza (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (65%), 2004 (68%), 2002 (51%)
National and local Democrats urged Cardoza to enter the contest because they feared that Condit could not survive the general election and that the party would lose the seat to the Republicans. When he did, he received immediate endorsements from Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and many members of the House delegation. Condit stayed in the race despite his tattered reputation, but Cardoza beat him in the primary 53%-39%. In the general election, Republicans nominated state Sen. Dick Monteith, whose seat included 73% of the congressional district. Monteith claimed that Cardoza was too liberal for an agriculture-oriented constituency, but Cardoza cited his business-oriented reputation in the Legislature. In October, Condit’s children released a letter that harshly criticized Cardoza and urged a vote against him. But Cardoza won 51%-43%. Stockton made the difference. Cardoza led 67%-27% in San Joaquin County, which gave him a 10,000-vote margin that wiped out Monteith’s 2,000-vote lead elsewhere.
In the House, Cardoza, like Condit, established his independence from the liberal Democratic leadership and racked up a centrist voting record. He joined the moderate Democrats’ Blue Dog Coalition and emphasized the need for fiscal discipline.
Cardoza naturally gravitated to the issues of agriculture and resources. He bucked environmentalists and worked with Republicans on farmer-friendly revisions to the Endangered Species Act, including changes in designating critical habitat. He advocated solar power and other sources of renewable energy. The father of two adopted children, Cardoza also worked on legislation encouraging placement of more children in foster care.
When Democrats assumed the majority on Capitol Hill in 2007, Cardoza became chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, a title that sounds more coastal than Valley, but it gave him a seat at the table in drafting the 2007-8 farm bill. He pushed for increasing subsidies for “specialty crops,” notably the fruits and vegetables that farmers grow in his district, and he helped secure more than $2 billion in new federal spending for those crops. With other Blue Dogs, he pushed for some constraints on overall spending and supported a provision that stops federal payments to farmers with incomes of $1 million a year or more. “This bill threads the needle,” Cardoza said. “There is something for everyone to dislike, but everyone got what they needed.”
Despite occasional differences with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, including his public support for Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer in his pitched battle against Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha for majority leader in 2007 (Pelosi backed Murtha), she gave him a seat on the leadership-run Rules Committee. He later patched things up with Pelosi by co-chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline” program to help endangered incumbents.
Cardoza has won re-election handily and with far less attention than in his first race.