Let the McNerney v. Andal smackdown begin.

Interesting item in a post on Daily Kos today:

CA-11: Quick note about Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney in CA-11; he received fewer votes in his primary yesterday than his Republican opponent, Dean Andal, did in his.

This isn’t terrible news, and it may not mean much…but it’s hardly thrilling, either. I’d consider McNerney’s race “lean-Dem/tossup”, and he is certainly one of the most endangered Democrats this cycle.

mcnerneyportrait.jpgIndeed, checking the numbers from Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Santa Clara counties, it looks as if McNerney totaled 34,181 to Andal’s 35,176. (That’s as of now; the numbers could change as additional absentee ballots are counted before the results are certified.) That’s a difference of 995 votes, which is 1.43 percent of all the votes cast for the two of them in their respective primaries.

The National Republican Congressional Committee — which has had McNerney on its hit list for removal practically since the day he was sworn in to replace House Resources Committee chairman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy — fired off a news release this morning describing Andal as “well-positioned” to win:

andal.jpgDean Andal has earned a solid reputation from his career in public service, including his service in the California State Assembly where he was a strong advocate for open government and accountability. He carried his principles for lower taxes throughout his service on the California Board of Equalization, where he fought hard for taxpayers, saving them millions of dollars.

Andal will take on freshman Democrat Jerry McNerney, who has quickly established a long and liberal voting record. In just two year’s time, McNerney has repeatedly voted for the largest tax increase in American history. He opposed funding for America’s military men and women in uniform even when members of the liberal House Democratic leadership supported it.

McNerney was also the beneficiary of millions of dollars in outside interest group advertisements and cash in 2006 from groups like MoveOn.org, the very same organization that questioned the patriotism of Army General David Petraeus. McNerney has refused to condemn their despicable attacks or decline the left-wing organization’s money.

The NRCC also noted President Bush carried the 11th Congressional District in 2000 with 53% of the vote and in 2004 with 54%.

But that’s not the complete picture. Let us parse:

(1.) No problems with the first paragraph describing Andal’s record.

(2.) For the second paragraph, I think McNerneyites would translate this into, “He wants to repeal President Bush’s tax cuts for the richest Americans (though he also wants to roll back the estate tax), and has resisted funding the war in Iraq while trying to expand benefits for veterans” — both of which are solid platform planks as the President and the war reach new depths of unpopularity.

(3.) McNerney did get a lot of money and boots-on-the-ground support from liberal and environmental organizations in 2006 because Pombo was such a ripe target, and he’s likely to get some this year too in order to keep the district Democratic. So far, however, he’s doing pretty well on his own: As of May 14, his campaign had $1,228,907 cash on hand while Andal had $508,945. It’s an expensive district in which to campaign, straddling the San Francisco and Sacramento television markets, so money’s going to be important. And McNerney has spent a lot of time doing his “Congress At Your Corner” meet and greets with constiuents in every nook and cranny of his district, which sprawls from Lodi to Morgan Hill; don’t underestimate the advantage of a highly visible incumbency.

(4.) In terms of voter registration, when the radically redistricted California 11th faced its first election with its new lines in 2002, it was 46.89 percent Republican to 38.07 Democrat — an 8.82-percentage-point gap — with 10.76 percent of voters declining to state an affiliation. By the time McNerney defeated Pombo in 2006, it was 42.95 percent Republican to 37.33 percent Democrat — a 5.62-percentage-point gap — with 16.04 percent declining to state. And today, it’s 41.01 percent Republican to 38.6 percent Democrat — a 2.41-percentage-point gap — with 16.73 percent declining to state. Though Republicans still outnumber Democrats, the district seems to be well into its purple phase, moving from red toward blue. (Note that Andal-over-McNerney percentage-point edge in their respective primaries Tuesday was smaller than the district’s current Republican-over-Democratic registration edge.)

[[UPDATE @ 7:35 A.M. THURSDAY: I also should’ve noted here that the district’s Republican voters had good reasons to come to the polls in strength Tuesday, including a three-way race in the 10th Assembly District GOP primary and a four-way race in the 15th Assembly District GOP primary.]]

No doubt, the 11th Congressional District is the Bay Area’s only real fight this year. But as the general election season starts firing up, look behind the hype to see what’s really going on — it’ll make things much more interesting, I promise you.

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.