- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 25, 2021

Rep. Josh Harder likes to stay under the radar.

The California Democrat, who represents the mostly rural district in the upper Central Valley, doesn’t do many media interviews and rarely can be seen taking public jabs at his political opponents.

In fact, the most national attention Mr. Harder received was when he was mistakenly flooded with angry letters intended for Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley after the Republican objected to certifying some state results from the 2020 election.

“I’m more interested in being in The Modesto Bee than I am being in The New York Times,” Mr. Harder said in an interview with The Washington Times. “I don’t think we can have the luxury of pointing fingers at a time when there are a lot of problems to deal with. We have to focus on working together and getting things done, and second, I think that some of our friends in the media like to amp up the conflict.”

Mr. Harder is in a tough position in Congress.

First elected in 2018 when he flipped a Republican seat held by Rep. Jeff Denham, Mr. Harder now resides in a major swing district on the front lines of the 2022 midterm battle for control of the House.

His district, the state’s 10th Congressional District, houses Modesto and the northern San Joaquin Valley. It went heavily in favor of the recall against Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, and was won narrowly by President Biden in 2020 compared to the rest of California.

Redistricting proposals may carve up Mr. Harder’s district, making him a potential casualty in the state’s loss of a congressional seat.

Mr. Harder is likely to face an uphill battle in his bid for reelection, said David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University.

“If you’re Josh Harder, you look like Sisyphus. It’s a really hard environment,” Mr. McCuan said, referring to the figure from Greek mythology doomed to spend eternity repeatedly rolling a giant boulder up a hill only to have it roll down every time he neared the summit.

Mr. Harder is facing several GOP challengers, as well as Democratic primary challengers who say they’re to the left of the lawmaker.

Mr. McCuan said the congressman should be less concerned about opponents in his party than the threat of being ousted by a Republican next year, especially if Mr. Denham tries to make a comeback.

For a lawmaker who touts himself as one of the districts’ common folk, his background doesn’t quite fit the bill in a district where the median income of $69,600 is below the state average and just 18% of the population are college graduates, also lower than the state average of 33%. 

A graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Business School, he worked as a venture capital investor and lived in New York and San Francisco before deciding to run for office in the rural district. 

Some GOP hopefuls have used Mr. Harder‘s life experience to paint him as an out-of-touch elite.

“We don’t need a Bay Area transplant or somebody who’s backed by big [Democratic National Committee] money. I’m not beholden to anyone. I’m not a politician. I’m just a guy,” Republican candidate Eugene Rubio Kilbride told The Turlock Journal.

Mr. Harder is among the 57 vulnerable Democrats the GOP’s campaign arm is targeting for the midterms. 

In California’s over 50-member delegation to Congress, just he and Rep. Jim Costa, a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, made the list.

One aspect the GOP is hitting hard on Mr. Harder is his voting record that is in line with more progressive members of his caucus.

Last year, Mr. Harder voted 91% in line with liberal firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and 98% with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

“In terms of the California delegation, he certainly tries to place himself in that moderate arena. But what that means is, for the rest of the country, that still qualifies as in the universe of Nancy Pelosi,” Mr. McCuan said.

Mr. Harder joined Democrats in voting for the $1.9 trillion social spending bill, as well as a vote to censure Rep. Paul Gosar, Arizona Republican, for an anime video that includes a character with his face killing a character with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s face in a samurai sword fight.

The censure passed in a near party-line vote.

When asked about his record, Mr. Harder said he sponsored bills with more Republicans than most of his Democratic colleagues.

Of the over 230 bills Mr. Harder co-sponsored in the current Congress, he supported more than 30 pieces of legislation that were introduced by Republicans.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the bills that come up for a vote are partisan, and I actually think that’s a mistake of the party’s leadership,” Mr. Harder said. “I wish we could bring up more bipartisan bills that maybe were supported by everybody in the Democratic caucus.”

One way Mr. Harder tries to distinguish himself is by focusing on hyperlocal issues, staying away from hot button issues.

The lawmaker pushed for federal resources to be distributed to his region to respond to natural disasters like droughts and wildfires, and he often meets with agriculture workers in his district, which is home to the Almond Board of California.

He does work [the district] really hard,” Mr. McCuan said. “The difficulty is when you look at the current trends, and you lose some of those bedroom communities, and this is one of the few districts in California that went for the recall, that means Republican candidates are hugely viable there.”

Mr. Harder has tried to foster relationships with GOP lawmakers, a tactic that’s becoming a rarity in a highly polarized environment.

He worked with Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, Washington state Republican, to push the Biden administration to help prevent wildfire. He worked with Rep. Van Taylor, Texas Republican, to shore up doctor shortages in their respective districts.

“There are lots of different types of members, but the ones who are willing to work on a policy issue, irrespective of whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat who they’d have to work alongside, are the ones who I would work with any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I feel like [Harder’s] taken that approach,” Ms. Herrera Beutler said.

The lawmaker insisted he would rather keep his head down and do his job while he remains in office, though he acknowledged amplifying his voice as a pragmatist in Congress could elevate his profile and prevent him from being caricatured by political adversaries in a risky election cycle.

“I think most people want to see more firefighters than arsonists in the political sense. Yet, it’s sometimes the folks with the loudest voices that are better at being heard,” Mr. Harder said. “Even if you’re not seeing folks like me on the nightly news every night, our voice is more important than ever because it’s critical on making sure things are getting across the finish line and hopefully helping folks.”

• Mica Soellner can be reached at msoellner@washingtontimes.com.

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