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In the wake of his stunning defeat in California’s 11th district at the hands of engineer Jerry McNerney (D), House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R) is mulling over his future — and whether it includes a run at his soon-to-be old seat in 2008.
As Republicans grapple with the aftermath of losing the solidly GOP, northern Central Valley seat to an avowed liberal Democrat — Pombo beat McNerney by 22 points in 2004 — potential challengers who see the Congressman-elect as immediately vulnerable are emerging, Pombo among them.
“He has not ruled out a future run,” said Brian Kennedy, Pombo’s spokesman at the Resources Committee.
Barely a week after McNerney defied the odds to win the 11th district, state Assemblymen Greg Aghazarian (R), of Stockton, and Guy Houston (R), of San Ramon, are being mentioned as possible challengers to the Democrat in 2008. Both Aghazarian and Houston were on vacation last week and unavailable for comment, but their staffers did not dismiss the notion that the Assemblymen are interested in challenging McNerney.
Republicans believe McNerney’s stand on the issues could sink him in the upcoming cycle. They insist the Democrat beat Pombo almost solely because of the pounding that the Congressman took on ethics from multiple 527 organizations that began targeting the district with robo-calls 18 months before Election Day, which helped suppress the GOP vote.
Without the aid of the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, the League of Conservation Voters and other environmental activist groups that camped out in Stockton for the past year and a half to campaign against Pombo, Republicans say there is no way McNerney can hold his seat against a viable GOP candidate absent a political transformation on his part that reflects the conservative underpinnings of the majority of his district.
“McNerney shouldn’t buy a house in Washington,” said one Republican familiar with the 11th district who closely followed the just-concluded race. “Unless he pulls off a miracle, this is a competitive seat and he’ll be fighting for his life [in 2008], and he probably won’t have the national money to save his butt.” McNerney’s staff could not be reached for comment last week.
But two of the environmental activist groups partly responsible for Pombo’s demise indicated that the Democrat deserves more credit than he is being given, even as they acknowledge how critical they were to his victory. And they vehemently disagree with Republicans who claim Pombo lost this race on ethics alone.
Leaders of both the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund and the League of Conservation Voters insist that a third of voters in the 11th district strongly disagreed with Pombo’s environmental policies. His reputation for unseemly, if not unethical, behavior was directly related to his stand on the environment, with both ultimately sinking him on Nov. 7, they contend.
“I’m trying to think if there was ever any advertising we did, whether mail, television or radio, where the two subjects were not tied together, and I don’t think there was,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.