Competitive campaigns for the 4th and 11th Districts are receiving special attention from national and state party leaders.
By Patrick McGreevy
Having come up short in campaigns for governor, lieutenant governor, state controller and Congress, Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock is making another run at higher office, prospecting for votes for a congressional seat here in Gold Country, hundreds of miles from his Ventura County-based legislative district.
McClintock's contest with Democrat and Air Force veteran Charlie Brown in a Northern California district is one of two federal races in the state receiving special attention from national and state party leaders. The other is just down the freeway, where freshman Rep. Jerry McNerney, a Democrat from Pleasanton, is facing a tough challenge from Republican Dean Andal of Stockton.
"They are the only two races that we feel are on the line," said Tony Quinn, a GOP researcher and co-editor of the California Target Book, which analyzes congressional races. "They are competitive. These are the two seats that could switch parties."
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has set aside more than $2 million for the two contests, and the National Republican Congressional Committee has called the campaigns the two "races to watch" in California. A committee spokesman declined to say how much the GOP is spending.
After 22 years representing an area of Southern California in the state Legislature, the last eight in the Senate, McClintock, 52, jumped at the chance to run in a heavily Republican district with no incumbent candidate. Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Roseville) is retiring amid an FBI investigation into his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The seat represents the 4th Congressional District, which is 47% Republican, 31% Democratic and 18% decline-to-state, but Brown is unfazed.
A former Republican who feels "the Republican Party left me," Brown came within three percentage points of unseating Doolittle in 2006, and he has been competitive with McClintock in fundraising.
McClintock has reported raising more than $1.6 million so far, Brown $1.3 million.
Brown, 58, lives in Roseville, where he has worked on the staff of the Police Department. He said his career, which included flying rescue helicopters in the Air Force before he retired as a lieutenant colonel, gives him valuable experience in an age of terrorism.
Brown opposed the invasion of Iraq and supports pulling the U.S. military out of that country in two years. McClintock supported the invasion.
McClintock backs offshore drilling for oil and more dams to provide hydroelectric power while storing water to quench the state's thirst. Brown says there are safer and more cost-effective ways of controlling floods than building a dam in the district. He supports offshore oil drilling but believes solar, wind and other alternative power sources need much more attention.
The two split over the federal bailout plan approved by Congress for the financial industry. McClintock called it "bad public policy" that will divert money from good loans.
Said Brown: "While far from perfect, the new plan addresses the immediate needs of families, taxpayers and small businesses."
In television and radio spots, Brown has criticized McClintock for running for a Northern California congressional district when he is from Thousand Oaks. "He is a career politician who is out of touch with the district," Brown said in an interview.
Talking recently to a crowd in El Dorado Hills, McClintock said he and his family lived for three years in Roseville before he was elected to the state Senate. "This is not new territory for me," he told the audience.
Although McClintock has a house in Thousand Oaks to comply with Senate residency laws, he has said that he and his family have lived since 1996 in Elk Grove, which is near the 4th District.
In the 11th District, where McNerney and Andal are battling, voter registration is closer: 41% Republicans and 38.6% Democrats.
Two years ago, McNerney defeated veteran Republican Rep. Richard W. Pombo in the district, criticizing the incumbent for trying to undermine environmental laws.
Before he was elected, McNerney, an engineer, started and ran a small business that makes wind turbines.
"I have real-world experience in energy, and I think I can really make a difference in bringing jobs to the district," McNerney said.
He supports offshore drilling if it is limited to areas 50 miles or more off the coast.
Andal, who has served in the state Assembly and on the state Board of Equalization, has criticized his opponent's position, saying the requirement that drilling take place 50 miles away or more is "a farce. It is economically infeasible."
Drilling should be allowed in the area beyond 15 miles from the coast, the Republican said, so it is out of sight. He also supports more solar, wind and geothermal power but says it will not meet the country's needs. As a result, Andal supports a move to more nuclear energy.
Having supported the troop surge in Iraq, Andal criticized the incumbent for voting against it.
As for the bailout plan, Andal said he would have voted against the bill, charging it will not work as intended to increase the flow of cash in lending markets and was loaded with pork barrel projects.
McNerney said he voted for it "because my constituents' 401(k)s, their life savings and the ability to take out car, home and student loans hang in the balance."
McNerney has raised more than $2 million for his campaign, about twice what Andal has brought in.