President George W. Bush will raise money today for two Republican allies in California’s Central Valley — Rep. John Doolittle, R-Rocklin, and 14-year incumbent Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, who was shown in an environmental group’s poll to be running neck and neck with his opponent.
Democrat Jerry McNerney, a wind engineer who was easily beaten by Pombo in 2004, would win votes from 48 percent of 413 likely voters polled a little more than a week ago in the 11th Congressional District. The poll was conducted by a firm run by Democratic pollster and strategist Stan Greenberg for anti-Pombo campaigners Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund. Pombo would win votes from 46 percent of the voters, and 6 percent were undecided.
The margin of error on the poll was plus or minus 5 percentage points.
“They’re either polling in fantasy land or in Berkeley,” said Pombo campaign manager Carl Fogliani. “We don’t release polling publicly, but the congressman is in a strong position.”
The Republican Party has spent more than $400,000 on direct mail and dispatched a cavalcade of leaders including the president, vice-president, speaker of the house and senate majority leader to the district this year to shore up support for Pombo.
Pombo had raised roughly $2 million more than McNerney by the end of June, campaign donation records show.
Oil and gas companies have been major donors to Pombo this campaign cycle, and as House Resources Committee chair, Pombo pushed for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Pombo, who touched down in Stockton on Monday night with Bush aboard Air Force One, voted along party lines to send Americans to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he has spoken out against Bush’s wiretapping program, saying the government should obtain warrants before spying on its citizens.
Five Tracy soldiers have died fighting in Iraq, and at least 53 people from Tracy are currently stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Military Moms Tracy support group.
Pombo’s ties to the Bush administration have fueled the ire of environmental activists, who have poured money and volunteers into the district and who use blogs in their efforts to defeat the congressman.
The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund’s Web site at www.pombointheirpocket.org, and its nine full-time staff members in Pleasanton, are charged with one simple goal — booting Pombo out of office. Campaign manager Ed Yoon said the group has spent more than $1 million dollars against the congressman this year, but the Pombo camp says lax laws make it hard to know where their money has come from.
“Bush and Pombo share the exact same environmental policy — they support big oil and they would like to scrap all the environmental protection laws that we have had since Richard Nixon,” Yoon said. “Congressman Pombo has tried to gut the Endangered Species Act — he’s the number one villain of the environment, and I think it’s time for him to get out.”
Pombo’s rewrite of the ESA, which would force the government to pay landowners to protect habitat for endangered species and would legalize pesticides that could kill endangered species as long as the products comply with use guidelines, passed the House of Representatives last year but is stalled in the Senate.
The same laws that shield the Defenders’ donors from public scrutiny also prohibit the group from communicating with McNerney’s campaign — but well-informed, anonymous blogs at http://saynotopombo.blogspot.com sometimes give simultaneous campaign updates for both McNerney and the Defenders.
Saynotopombo, which is directly beneath Pombo’s official campaign Web site when users search Google for “Pombo,” was started a year ago by Matt Lockshin, who lives outside of Pombo’s district in Berkeley. Lockshin describes himself on the site as a “progressive activist” and member of four Democratic clubs.
“It’s not intended to be a Democratic Party blog in any sort of way, or simply a blog for Democrats,” said Lockshin. “One of the most prolific commenters is (local Republican) Tom Benigno. I doubt he and I will see eye to eye on most things, but I welcome his participation.”
David LeBouef from the North Carolina-based e-marketing firm VisionPoint Marketing said he used a product called Alexa to determine that Saynotopombo is generating “far more traffic” than Richardpombo.com, Pombo’s official Web site.
According to Saynotopombo statistics, around 750 people visited the Web site last October. That number grew to nearly 6,500 people in September.
Matt Ortega, one of the six bloggers on the site, discloses in his online profile that he is employed by the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund. Lockshin said Kevin Keefe’s profile disclosed that he was employed by Defenders until he stopped blogging in June.
The four other bloggers, including himself, have volunteered on McNerney’s campaign, said Lockshin, but none of them have been paid to work for McNerney or for any other campaign in the district.
The site has a sister forum with 113 members, including Tracy resident and McNerney volunteer Van Puckett. The forum is hosted by Democracy For America — a group founded by Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean.
Pucket said he relies heavily on blogs and other Internet sources for his political news.
“There are a lot of Web sites with lots of information — both honest and dishonest,” said Pucket. “The sites with the best info are the sites that require the users to provide links to the information or source for their news items.”
A slew of activists can reach Pombo’s district by logging onto a computer or driving an hour and a half from the San Francisco Bay Area — but they can’t vote in the race. Instead, they are working hard to convince voters here to vote against him, and they are expected to turn out at the Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium today when President Bush stumps for Pombo at a $250-a-head breakfast.
Pombo comes from a prominent land-owning family, and he has long been a familiar name in Tracy, which has 9 percent of the 350,000 voters in a congressional district that includes nearly all of San Joaquin County but excludes much of Stockton — the county’s biggest city, where Democrats have a 55,000 to 38,000 edge in registered voters over Republicans.
Pombo was a Tracy councilman from 1990 to 1992, when he made the jump to Congress.
Tracy has more than doubled in size since then and has turned into a bedroom community for thousands of Bay-Area commuters who likely have little in common with the agricultural roots advertised in Pombo’s campaign-sign slogan: “Rancher. Congressman.”
Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans in Tracy, but Republicans have more registered voters district-wide than Democrats, 43.2 percent to 37.5 percent.
Democrats have gained a half percentage point of registered voters over the last year in the district, while Republicans lost a percentage point.