President Bush will take a break from conducting his war against terror to visit Stockton on Oct. 3 to raise campaign cash for Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy.
Pombo campaign consultant Wayne Johnson said it’s normal for incumbent presidents and vice presidents to help candidates raise funds.
“It takes money to run campaigns,” said Johnson, who said Bush would appear at a breakfast fundraiser.
The breakfast is expected to be at the Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium.
Local fundraisers by Vice President Dick Cheney, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and House Majority Leader John Boehner have helped Pombo raise more than $2.5 million this election cycle.
The money has helped Pombo fend off an expensive, frenzied attack by primary opponent Pete McCloskey, Democratic candidate Jerry McNerney and a range of activist groups, including MoveOn.org, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club, in the race for the 11th Congressional District.
Pombo has been targeted for his close ties to convicted felon and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, but David Karol, a political science professor at University of California, Berkeley, said McNerney doesn’t have enough money or visibility to make the scandals stick.
“I don’t think it really helps Pombo to be seen with the president. … I think what Bush can offer him at this point is help in fundraising,” said Karol, who said Pombo remains the favorite in the race despite Bush’s unpopularity across the country. A Sept. 7 Gallup poll found 39 percent of Americans approve of Bush’s performance, while 56 percent disapprove.
Bush picked up 3 percent more votes in 2004 in the 11th District than his national average.
Sierra Club spokesman Eric Antebi said Bush counted on Pombo, as chairman of the House Resources Committee, to support or turn a blind eye to oil-industry friendly policies on oil drilling and air pollution.
“Pombo joined Bush in trying to allow oil companies to drill in special places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and protected the coastline while weakening the rules that protect our waterways from drilling pollution,” Antebi said. “And like Bush, Pombo’s campaigns have gotten a big boost from oil industry contributions.”
Pombo previously said that he wants to create more American jobs and wean the United States from foreign energy supplies by increasing domestic production.
Pombo supports Bush’s commitment to keeping U.S. forces in Iraq — which, according to various government reports, had no weapons of mass destruction or links to al-Qaida when it was invaded — saying that an early withdrawal would be a disaster. At least 2,676 U.S. soldiers, including five soldiers from Tracy, have died in the war. Iraq Body Count has documented more than 43,000 Iraqi deaths, but no such government statistics are available.
Defenders of Wildlife and MoveOn.org organizer Ed Yoon said he would greet Bush with a protest, but South San Joaquin County Republican President Frank Aquila said the president will be welcomed by much of the community.
“I’m sure they’ll go ahead and bus the protestors in, but any time the president comes — whether Republican or Democrat — you’ve got to honor that position, and I think the fact that President Bush is going to be here is absolutely outstanding.”
McNerney’s camp seemed unfazed by Bush’s upcoming visit.
“If I were Pombo, I’d probably be stoked that Bush is coming out, because even George Bush is more popular than the Congress,” said McNerney spokesman Rob Coughlan.
The visit was announced at a difficult time for the Republican Party, which is facing a pre-election backlash over the federal government’s handling of the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and oil prices.
Despite Pombo’s formidable campaign war chest, the National Republican Congressional Committee spent more than $55,000 helping Pombo this year.
Committee spokesman Jonathon Collegio said $38,475 was spent a little more than a week ago on a mailer that attacks McNerney’s tax policies.
“The (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) has targeted Richard Pombo, and the (National Republican Congressional Committee) wanted to level the playing field,” Collegio said.
A spokeswoman for the Democratic committee said Bush’s visit is a sign that Pombo is in trouble.
“National Republicans are spending money, and they’re sending Bush in to raise money for Pombo because they know that his record of using his seat for personal enrichment makes him vulnerable and an unappealing choice for Californian voters,” Kate Bedingfield said.