Cook: McNerney-Andal race no longer a toss-up

The widely observed Cook Political Report has changed its rating for California’s 11th Congressional District, where first-term Democratic incumbent Jerry McNerney is challenged by Republican Dean Andal, from “toss up” to “lean Democratic.” Here’s Cook’s rundown:

Although this race is still likely to be very competitive, evidence suggests freshman Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney’s prospects of coming back to Washington have improved a bit over the past several months. Not only has former GOP Assemblyman Dean Andal turned in several sub-par fundraising quarters in a row, but he has also spent a lot of the last month on the defensive, answering questions about his role as a consultant for a community college development project.

In June, a San Joaquin civil grand jury report took the San Joaquin Delta College Board of Trustees to task for misappropriation of a $250 million public grant to build a new campus. The report said board members violated the law by leaking information from their deliberations on the location of the campus to a developer, PCCP Mountain House LLC. The report alleged that PCCP’s consultant, quickly revealed to be Andal, improperly used his knowledge of the closed-session deliberations to lobby board members to pursue a more expensive location to develop.

Andal has denied ever having improper conversations, but the story has lent Democrats new ammunition for ads. The DCCC was already planning on defining Andal before Andal or his allies could take to the air, and they were planning to portray his legislative voting record as quixotically libertarian. Now, they will be hitting Andal from a few different angles, and environmental groups have expressed interest in piling on by making Andal the same kind of target they made former GOP Rep. Richard Pombo in 2006.

To regain even footing in this race, Andal will need to find a way to reclaim the offensive and put the spotlight back on McNerney. Even in a district McCain should carry, that will be difficult to do in an expensive media market unless an outside group like Freedom’s Watch makes a serious investment here. Democrats also note that in a political atmosphere so dominated by the energy issue, McNerney’s background in wind energy may provide the incumbent with a unique boost.

McNerney should be considered a very slight favorite as the campaign enters its final months.

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.