Rothenberg Reports adds Pombo, Doolittle to watch lists

The Rothenberg Political Report today added two California congressional races to its watch list.

The districts of GOP incumbents Richard Pombo of Tracy and John Doolittle of Granite Bay are now ranked as “Republican favored.” Other than outright safe, it’s the least competitive of the ranking system which ranges from pure toss-up to tilt to lean in one party’s favor or the other.

But the appearance of the races on the list at all reflects the fact that Republicans nationwide are fighting for their political lives. Voters are unhappy about the Iraq War, a polemical Congress tangled in corruption scandals and the economy.

The shift probably also shows that political experts who track congressional races have noted the tens of thousands of dollars the National Republican Congressional Committee has spent in Pombo’s district in recent weeks. A party spokesman says it’s because they want to win decisively but others speculate that internal polling has delivered bad news for the incumbent.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is also starting to pay attention, naming Jerry McNerney, who is challenging Pombo, and Charlie Brown, Doolittle’s adversary, to a suddenly created “emerging candidates” category of its “Red to Blue” national fundraising initiative.

This “emerging” title is little more than a public nod, though. The party isn’t giving these guys any money, although the publicity may attract donations. Neither Democrat has been able to persuade the party to invest in their campaigns, largely because party registration in these two districts heavily favors Republicans and the party has more competitive races to fight elsewhere.

But it does indicate that party leaders are a bit less pessimistic about their candidates’ chances than they have been.

Adding to the buzz, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has again named Pombo and Doolittle to its list of the most corrupt members of Congress. Republicans have called this group an arm of the Democratic Party, largely because its top staff has roots in the party, but the list includes four Democrats. Read the report with skepticism: The Pombo chapter includes a number of unproven allegations and the congressman vigorously disputes its conclusions.

Meanwhile, Pombo and McNerney continue to hammer each other in mailers and radio ads that grow nastier with each passing week. Again, voters should consider the contents with a big salt shaker. If you don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper, and you shouldn’t, then you definitely don’t want to take anything in a campaign mailer too seriously.

McNerney, who has far less money than his opponent, is also relying heavily on ground troops and the efforts of liberal and environmental groups that have spent thousands of dollars on anti-Pombo campaign messages in the past year.

Six of these groups are hosting a “Take Back Congress” fund-raiser and volunteer recruiting event with McNerney and Brown on Sept. 27 in Oakland, which doesn’t happen to be District 11 but then again, most of the activists don’t live in the district, either. Former GOP Congressman Pete McCloskey is on the guest list, along with comedian Will Durst and former Assemblyman and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.

If you want to attend, visit the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund web site, PomboInTheirPocket.org, for time and location. The other sponsors are the Sierra Club, Progressive Democrats of America, Project Blue Bridge and Progressive Action.