Politics & Government

Abortion rights group endorses Josh Harder. Will it help him win in the Central Valley?

The pro-choice group NARAL is beginning its work to elect Democrats in 2020 by highlighting a candidate it overlooked in last year’s “blue wave” midterm races: Rep. Josh Harder of California’s Central Valley.

It announced its support for Harder on Thursday, pledging to help him keep a purple district that he flipped from four-term Republican Rep. Jeff Denham in November.

The politically polarizing issue — even more so right now, as some states legislatures are adopting restrictive abortion bans— is not one Harder has embraced, though he has made it clear he is pro-choice.

“Important health care decisions are best made between women and their doctors - not Washington politicians,” Harder said. “I share NARAL’s commitment to protecting people’s right to make their own choices about their bodies without interference from the government. I am proud to receive this endorsement and will continue fighting to protect access to reproductive health care for all Americans.”

Harder has frequently campaigned and focused on bipartisan issues that are central to his district during his time in Congress, such as increasing water resources, helping the agricultural industry, creating jobs and easing health care access.

He’s sponsored six bills or amendments, none on particularly partisan issues, and none of the 153 bills or amendments he’s co-sponsored is focused on abortion.

NARAL pointed to the positions of Harder’s opponents in its reasoning to endorse him.

“While Josh Harder has stood up for pro-choice values, his opponents are tripping over themselves to embrace the increasingly extreme anti-choice views of the Republican Party,” said National Political Director Nicole Brener-Schmitz.

Harder has almost a dozen opponents, including Republicans who have won local elections in the district. One is Ted Howze, a former Turlock city councilman who came in third in the 2018 primary behind Harder and Denham. Another is San Joaquin County Supervisor Bob Elliot.

The Republicans in general are not promoting their views on abortion, though those that have taken a public position say they are against abortion.

Mike Lynch, a veteran Democratic political strategist in the San Joaquin Valley, said a new Alabama law banning abortion even in cases of rape and incest will put Republicans on the defensive nationwide.

“This endorsement probably doesn’t hurt or help (Harder), since people know where he stands,” Lynch said. “But the issue with Alabama is going to give the Republican candidates something to fight about.”

In the last election, the National Republican Campaign Committee seized on a video that surfaced of Harder telling a gathering in July 2017 that he would sponsor legislation to overturn the Hyde Amendment, which prevents any federal funds from being used to cover abortions, and answering a question on if women have the right to abortions for the “full nine terms.” Harder said yes, though his campaign later said he “misunderstood the question.”

His campaign then said that he supports California law on the issue, which allows for abortions up to 24 weeks and beyond that point only if the mother’s life or well-being are at risk.

This year, the NRCC has tried to provoke Harder — in addition to many other Democrats it is targeting — into revealing his stance on states codifying abortion rights even up to the point of birth. He’s stayed mum on the topic.

“Josh Harder is pro-infanticide, so it’s no surprise he was endorsed by an organization that lobbies for the ability to have an abortion up to the moment of birth,” said Torunn Sinclair, spokeswoman for the NRCC.

Harder’s district is home to several prominent evangelical and Catholic churches and an annual Walk for Life in Modesto on Good Friday tends to draw thousands of people in the abortion protest.

Polls have found that about an even amount of people identify as pro-choice vs. pro-life in the U.S., when previously a majority were pro-choice. But 71 percent in 2018 said they did not believe that the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

About half support the right to abortion in certain circumstances and only 18 percent think it should be illegal in all circumstances, according to the most recent Gallup polls.

NARAL has also endorsed Reps. Katie Hill, D-Santa Clarita, Gil Cisneros, D-Phelan, Katie Porter, D-Irvine, Harley Rouda, D-Newport Beach, and Mike Levin, D-Vista. Unlike with Harder, it also endorsed those candidates in 2018.

NARAL has now endorsed every Democrat who flipped a House seat from Republican to Democrat in 2018 except Rep. TJ Cox, D-Fresno.

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.