What a difference a poll makes

Early in the election season, congressional District 11 Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney, running against incumbent GOP Rep. Richard Pombo, could barely get a phone call returned from his own party’s top leaders.

Last night, they feted McNerney at a San Francisco fund-raiser that would be the envy of any Democrat in California.

Read Democratic activist Christine Pelosi’s blog about the evening here.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the event, which was attended by House Democratic Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with congresswomen Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, Anna Eshoo, D-Atherton and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma. Eshoo and Pelosi had endorsed and given money to McNerney’s primary opponent, Steve Filson.

“The party thought Pombo’s money would knock McNerney out of the running but the attacks haven’t worked,” said one of McNerney’s campaign aides. “We’re seeing a big seachange in the way McNerney is being treated in this campaign, thanks to the latest polls.”

The aide refers to national polls that show Republicans in trouble in the wake of the page scandal in Washington and concerns over the Iraq War. He’s also talking about two polls commissioned by the Democrat’s campaign and an environmental group that shows McNerney in a statistical dead heat with Pombo.

It’s tough to evaluate the validity of those polls because the campaign won’t release the details and there’s been no independent polling.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is doing its own poll, though, and we’ll have a pretty good idea of the results if the national party suddenly dumps money into this race. So far, the DCCC hasn’t given McNerney a dime in its mega-million-dollar independent expenditure program, just a nice spot on its web site for “emerging candidates.” (The committee has apparently given McNerney some money under the limited amount it is allowed to contribute to or spend on behalf of the candidate directly.)

Who else showed?

Craig’s List owner Craig Newmark appeared, along with former GOP congressman Pete McCloskey; Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers; Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco; Art Pulaski of the California Federation of Labor; San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris and Jerome Ringo, president of the Apollo Alliance and the National Wildlife Federation.

Of course, this all becomes fodder for Pombo, whose campaign staffers will use it to further paint McNerney in the conservative Central Valley as a tax-and-spend San Francisco liberal.