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District 10 cliff-hanger race between Denham and Harder still teetering

Republican incumbent Jeff Denham held a lead Wednesday over Democratic challenger Josh Harder, who hopes he’ll pick up ground as election workers continue processing several thousand ballots yet to count in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

“Our campaign remains confident with the returns we have seen,” said Josh Whitfield, Denham’s campaign manager, in an email Wednesday. His boss, first elected in 2010, was ahead with 50.6 percent and a margin of 1,287 votes among 112,115 tallied so far, but mounds of last-minute provisional and conditional ballots await counting and results could be weeks away.

Harder seems to be preparing for legal action. He emailed supporters Wednesday asking for money to “hire a lawyer and make sure we have everything we need to win this fair and square.”

Late ballots historically tend to favor Democratic candidates, which could bode well for Harder, said Keith Smith, an associate political science professor with Stockton’s University of the Pacific.

However, last-minute efforts by President Donald Trump to rally the Republican base might have prompted many to vote who otherwise might not have, said Bob Benedetti, a research associate for the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State University. “You can make the argument either way,” he said Wednesday in a phone interview.

Smith said, “It’s too close, and we won’t know for weeks” the winner.

Harder, after a long night awaiting returns, said Wednesday on the phone he was “feeling like we did everything we could to leave it all on the field.” He said he was concerned at reports of problems some voters encountered Tuesday at polling stations, prompting a rare emergency hearing before a Stanislaus Superior Court judge shortly before polls closed.

The judge declined to order that polls stay open longer than normal to accommodate voters who ran into trouble with provisional ballots. County elections leaders said some stations didn’t have enough envelopes for such late ballots, but denied that voters were turned away.

“We’re going to fight to make sure every person who wanted to vote, did, and to get it all counted,” Harder said Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday evening, Harder emailed supporters asking for donations. “We’ll need to keep our staff on for a little longer, hire a lawyer and make sure we have everything we need to win this fair and square,” the email said.

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The Harder-Denham race was among several targeted by Democrats eager to regain control of the House, which they did by virtue of Democratic wins elsewhere.

The change will douse Denham’s hope, if he wins, of becoming chairman of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The majority party controls leadership of such panels.

People in the 10th District cast 125,705 midterm ballots four years ago. It’s believed that far more were cast Tuesday, but only 112,115 had been tallied as of early Wednesday, suggesting a long wait for final results.

Stanislaus Clerk-Recorder Lee Lundrigan said “multiple thousands” of provisional ballots await counting, and would not hazard a guess as to when a more definitive number of those left to process might be released. San Joaquin County also has thousands yet to process, its elections office said; San Joaquin’s number will be pinpointed Thursday and an updated count will be released Friday.

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390

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