House Democrats have landed a recruit to run against Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., in the Central Valley's 10th Congressional District. Farmer and beekeeper Michael Eggman announced Tuesday that he will seek the seat, which was one of 17 in the country to split its votes between a Republican congressman and President Obama in 2012. And Eggman said in a telephone interview that he will have support from Washington.
"I've been in contact with them and they're supportive of my campaign," Eggman said of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. A DCCC spokesperson said the committee was excited about his candidacy. Eggman grew up in Turlock, Calif. and said he lived in the Washington area for a time during and after college, but not in a political capacity -- he worked in marketing and sales for a bank and a health insurance company. He returned to California 10 years ago after his mother died to help run the family farm.
Eggman's sister represents a sliver of the district as a freshman in the state Assembly, but Eggman himself is a political novice. He said he was motivated to run because he doesn't think Denham -- or Washington in general -- is interested in solving the district's problems. "Going up and down the Valley -- because that's what beekeepers do -- I see these blatant problems: High unemployment, high poverty, crumbling infrastructure," Eggman said. "Try driving beehives around on crumbling roads when you're worried about dropping them. You know the saying, 'Don't shake a hornets' nest?' Well, you don't want to be shaking a truckload of bees when you're driving them around, either!"
"It doesn't seem like anybody cares," Eggman continued. "It seems like they care more about their political agenda than their constituents. We're in the Valley hanging on and these guys are playing their own game."
Asked specifically about why he opposed Denham, Eggman said he thought the incumbent was "out of touch." "I think Jeff Denham works hard at making good moves for Jeff Denham," Eggman said. Denham won reelection to a second term in 2012 with 53 percent of the vote.
Over Twitter, Denham consultant Dave Gilliard wrote that if Democrats couldn't beat Denham when they targeted him in 2012, a presidential year when most other targeted California GOP incumbents fell, "they can't beat him."
With Eggman's announcement, House Democrats now have candidates lined up in about half of the Republican-held seats that Obama also carried in 2012, part of the DCCC's concentrated effort to get an early start on recruiting this election cycle after redistricting kept potential candidates on the sidelines until relatively late in the process in 2012. Democrats would need to gain 17 seats to retake the House majority in 2012.
One of the benefits to that early approach is that recruits get more time to raise money, which will be a main issue challenging the untested Eggman. The 10th District hosted one of the nation's most expensive House races in 2012: Denham and Democratic former astronaut Jose Hernandez spent nearly $4.5 million between them, and outside groups chipped in another $8 million, with both spending figures tilted against Democrats. Denham raised over $215,000 in the first three months of 2013 and has over $324,000 in his campaign account already.
"I'm just a farmer. I’ve never fundraised before," said Eggman, who added that he won't be able to use personal resources on his campaign. "To be honest, that dollar amount you’re speaking of is kind of daunting, but I'm a firm believer that as a farmer, if you work hard and put in effort, and put your legs and back behind it, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish. That's a farmer’s attitude: There's nothing I can’t grow."
Eggman's farming background would give Democrats a different angle than last year's race against Denham. Hernandez focused on his upbringing in a field-working family and a broad message of education and opportunity in 2012, while Eggman's early statements sound like he'll focus on infrastructure and the district's agricultural community. Of course, Denham also has background in agriculture to go with a record of surviving elections in Democratic-leaning territory, both in Congress and the state legislature.
Hernandez also hasn't ruled out another bid: He told the San Francisco Chronicle this week that he'll decide later this year whether to run again. Eggman said that he tried to call Hernandez several times, but he hasn't been able to get the former candidate on the phone.