MODESTO, Calif. - Political novice turned Congressman-elect Josh Harder returned from orientation in Washington, D.C., to his California district in the Central Valley on Monday night to greet supporters at a volunteer thank-you party in Modesto.
Harder, 32, was part of a string of Democrats in California who won upset victories and flipped Congressional House seats held by Republicans
Harder's election in California's Congressional District 10 was a tight race with the incumbent Republican Jeff Denham.
Harder sat down with KTVU to talk about his reasons for running and his goals going into Congress in January. As for winning? "It feels pretty humbling," he said.
Harder grew up in Turlock, went on to Stanford University, and became a venture capitalist after getting an MBA at Harvard. He says he never aspired to politics growing up.
"I think if you were to ask my wife, she's the most shocked person in the world that I ended up running" Harder said. "I never thought I'd be in politics. I was enjoying my career."
His reason for running? He says it was personal. When incumbent Denham reversed course and voted with the other Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Harder felt Denham had let families down.
"My younger brother David was born 10 weeks premature. He was less than 2 pounds when he was first born. Spent the first two years of his life in and out of hospitals," said Harder. Thinking of his brother, now a grown man, made him decide to take on the role of challenger.
Harder says while attending the orientation in Washington D.C. for incoming Congressional members, he met face-to-face with Denham and they agreed to work together on a smooth transition for the benefit of the district constituents. Harder says he plans to retain some programs Denham started in the district, such as a veterans workforce program.
Harder also said dit was inspiring to be part of the new group entering Congress in January.
"What excited me most, was you had so many folks, so many new incoming members that had never run for any office before, people who had stories like me," said Harder, "And that to me is very hopeful and optimistic."
Some of those new Democrats have voiced opposition to Nancy Pelosi's bid for House Speaker.
Harder says he'll vote for the person who can put partisan politics aside.
Harder's staff say more than 10,000 people volunteered for the campaign, including some former Denham supporters and Latino voters who didn't like Denham's close ties to President Trump's health care and immigration policies.
Harder says in the next two years, he does plan to reach out to Republicans in the district and hopes to earn their trust.
At the appreciation party, the crowd was a diverse mix of people from different parts of the district, who explained their views on the election and why they decided to support Harder.
"We knew we needed to touch our community," said Raquel Flores of Modesto who led the Latino Caucus within the Harder Campaign, "In our community there were a lot of people who weren't registered. They were apathetic, didn't feel like their vote counted."
Mary Vanderostyne of Ripon says she saw a big surge in enthusiasm after the 2016 election year.
"The Democratic Party had kind of fizzled out in Manteca and after the last election we just, we got it all going again, because we felt we needed to do something," said Vanderostyne, another Harder campaign volunteer.
Some people said in the past they'd supported the Denham campaign.
"We asked his office if he was going to vote for or against the Affordable Care Act. He said he wasn't going to vote for it to be revoked. The next day he voted for it, the revocation," said Peter Warner, a former Denham supporter who explained his reasons for switching.
One young man said he worked up to 70 hours a week as a volunteer for Harder.
"I feel like he's not aligned with a party or the Bay Area. He's aligned with truth and integrity and the people of this district. That's what matters to me and that's what I'm thankful for with Josh," said Isaiah Cane of Ripon, who said he had worked on Jeff Denham's campaign in 2016.
Harder says he sees areas of policy where Democrats and Republicans can come together, such as the status of immigrant DACA youth or infrastructure projects.
Harder and other new members of Congress could be the ones leading the charge to build bipartisan policy bridges.
"Who better to lead that charge than people like me in districts like this one where we are a microcosm of America. We had a lot of people who voted for Trump and a lot of people who voted for Hillary. We should be the leaders of that bipartisan consensus," said Harder.