Jerry McNerney: Will he or won’t he?

Will Jerry McNerney throw his superdelegate support to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama while the race is still on, or will he stay mum?

Sure, I’m picking on him a bit. He’s not the only East Bay Congressman who has not yet made the choice – Pete Stark hasn’t, either – but McNerney’s the one with the most to lose.

Stark, D-Fremont, was elected to the House in 1972 and has been there ever since; he now chairs the powerful Ways and Means Health Subcommittee. His 13th Congressional District is registered 53.6 percent Democrat, 18.5 percent Republican. In his past four re-elections, he won with 70.5 percent in 2000, 71.1 percent in 2002, 71.7 percent in 2004 and 74.9 percent in 2006 – stronger each time.

In February’s presidential primary, Democrats in Stark’s district went 57.3 percent for Clinton, 38.3 percent for Obama. But although Stark’s temper and (ahem) plain speech sometimes get him into hot water, he clearly has little to lose in endorsing either candidate.

mcnerneyportrait.jpgOn the other hand, McNerney, D-Pleasanton, is a freshman who’s among the National Republican Congressional Committee’s top targets for unseating this year.

In 2006 he toppled House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, in a 53.3 percent to 46.7 percent race. Pombo was beset with accusations of ethics problems, and McNerney was buoyed by a flood of grassroots activists who came in from outside the district to knock doors, work the phones, etc.

Today, McNerney’s 11th Congressional District – mostly in San Joaquin County, but with swaths of Alameda, Contra Costa and San Joaquin counties – is registered 41.3 percent Republican; 38.5 percent Democrat; and 16.6 percent decline-to-state. As of March 31, he had more campaign money in the bank – $1,153,586 – than his Republican challenger, Dean Andal – $531,817 – but the race is young and nobody expects a Stark-style cakewalk in McNerney’s district.

Democrats in McNerney’s district in February voted 54.1 percent for Clinton, 39.9 percent for Obama. McNerney in early March told the San Francisco Chronicle he would “make a decision when I have to… I’m going to let the voters decide for themselves.”

Surely he has formed his own opinion by now, right? It’s hard to believe that any member of Congress hasn’t by now, after all that’s been said and done. It’s easy to believe, however, that McNerney doesn’t want to make a choice now which could put him at odds either with a majority of his district’s voters, or with the activists who helped him win that seat, or with the eventual nominee; it’s easy to believe he doesn’t want his words now to show up in Andal’s ads this fall.

But the time may be drawing nigh.

The latest Associated Press figures show Clinton still leads Obama in superdelegate endorsements (268 to 248) but Obama leads in overall delegates (pledged and the officially unpledged superdelegates), 1,736 to 1,602; a candidate needs 2,025 delegates to clinch the nomination. The superdelegate contest has gotten hot in recent days; much is being made of former Democratic National Committee Chairman Joe Andrew’s superdelegate defection from Clinton to Obama, yet poll numbers show Clinton resurgent.

So, Congressman McNerney – will you play it safe and wait until the nomination is a fait accompli, or will you speak out about who you believe should be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States?

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Russell

    Make a choice for the convenience of whom or what? He isn’t obligated to say anything. Any of the supers making declarations now are pandering to the candidates or to the voters (after testing the political winds). He should wait until the convention and then simply vote.