Millions of dollars in political advertisements that praise and criticize Tracy’s congressional candidates barely mention the biggest and bloodiest conundrum facing Congress — what to do about the Iraq war.
Robert Benedetti, University of the Pacific government and politics professor, said the Iraq war positions of Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and his opponent, Democrat Jerry McNerney, are tricky to promote.
“In the case of Rep. Pombo, the president’s policy on the war — which he has supported — has not been popular,” Benedetti said.
McNerney and other Democrats who want to bring the troops home, on the other hand, he said, “are anxious to show their support for the troops and their realization that this is not a problem quickly solved.”
Neither Pombo nor McNerney has served in the military, though McNerney went to West Point for two years before dropping out in 1971 because of his opposition to the war in Vietnam. McNerney says none of his family members have served in Iraq.
Pombo’s family’s experience with Iraq is unclear. When asked at the Tracy Press forum, “What is your personal experience with the war in Iraq, and how has it affected you” Pombo said that outside of his work as a congressman, he had “the opportunity to have a number of people, friends and family members and others that have gone over and fought.”
He declined to name them.
“What I was saying is that I have family members who have served in the military, and obviously, some of them have been deployed to Iraq,” Pombo said this week. “I have had family members that have served in the military, and that is as far as I’m going to comment.”
Instead of dueling on their Iraq war positions, Pombo and McNerney instead feud publicly about who has more support among veterans.
Pombo spokesman Brian Kennedy denied that his campaign had shied from the war, blaming McNerney for beginning tit-for-tat advertising on veterans’ issues.
“The TV commercial we shot was in direct response to the McNerney ad, which was a complete distrortion — if not an outright lie — about Richard’s record when it comes to veterans,” Kennedy said.
McNerney’s advertisements hone in on a deciding “no” vote cast last May by Pombo that defeated an amendment to the military appropriations bill that would have increased Department of Veterans Affairs funding for prosthetic limbs research by $53 million. The advertisements feature four Iraq veterans, none of whom lives in the district.
Kennedy said the vote would have redirected money from the Base Realignment and Closure initiatives and put it instead toward additional research.
“Due to budgetary restraints, the measure would have taken roughly $160 million out of BRAC and only added $30 million more to research,” Kennedy said. “In addition, there was already $412 million for medical and prosthetic research in the bill.”
McNerney’s campaign objected to the explanation.
“If Richard Pombo and the Republican leadership were truly interested in fully funding prosthetic limbs research, they could have easily split the amendment into two — one for more research and the other to not take away money from BRAC,” McNerney spokesman Yoni Cohen said this week.
Cohen said McNerney has never shied from discussing the war, saying he’s raised the issue himself in debates, forums and speeches.
“We think that people are very familiar with the fact that Richard Pombo and (President) George Bush are tied at the hip in staying the course in Iraq,” Cohen said. “Our advertising is intended to inform folks about Richard Pombo’s disrespectful record on veterans issues.”
Cohen pointed to a scorecard published by Disabled American Veterans, which says Pombo voted the way the organization would have liked just once during the 13 most important congressional votes since 2000. The group was founded after World War I.
Pombo’s advertisements feature three district veterans and the wife of a Tracy man serving in Iraq. But Tiffany Walton, the woman in the ad, said she would not discuss politics with the Tracy Press because she is employed by Pombo’s campaign, with records showing she has been paid $1,580 since September to help manage his campaign and knock on doors. Walton said she originally joined Pombo’s campaign as a volunteer.
Specialist Gerald Lee, a U.S. Army National Guard soldier from Lodi, has kind words for Pombo, saying the congressman helped him stay home from a voluntary third tour of Iraq to take care of his son when the 2-month-old was diagnosed in September with eye cancer.
Lee, who also served at Guantanamo Bay and volunteered in Orleans Parish after Hurricane Katrina, works at the Fresno National Guard armory now on a compassionate reassignment, where he supports his unit in Iraq. He said his son, Lucas, is recovering well, and he credits Pombo with playing an “instrumental and vital part of taking care of a soldier.”
Yet each candidate has detractors.
Motecuzoma Sanchez, who donned gas masks to protect against chemical attacks while providing logistical support for the 2003 Iraq invasion, said he objects to Pombo’s commercials because they don’t show Iraq veterans.
“It’s not the actual people that have been over there and have had to suffer because of Bush’s ulterior motives,” said Sanchez, who lives in Stockton.
Tracy resident Nadia McCaffrey had a son killed by Iraqi allies in June 2004. On Monday, McNerney held a press conference to announce her endorsement of him.
McCaffrey said she was angry with Pombo because he didn’t return her phone calls after 34-year old California National Guardsmen Spc. Patrick R. McCaffrey Sr. was killed in Balad. She’d hounded the Pentagon for two years before it revealed in June that her son and 1st Lt. Andre Tyson were likely murdered by Iraqi civil defense officers whom the two U.S. men had trained.
“I called (Pombo) numerous times before the whole thing blew up in June, when the Pentagon finally got back to telling me how my son was murdered,” said McCaffrey, adding that said she became friends with the McNerney family after the Democrat called her following Patrick’s death.
Patrick McCaffrey’s father, Bob McCaffrey, credited Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer with helping his family discover the truth behind his son’s death.
Pombo declined to comment on Nadia McCaffrey’s claim that his office hadn’t returned her phone calls, saying, “She has been through a lot.”
“I obviously have a great deal of empathy for the situation that she’s in, and as a father, I could not imagine what she has gone through in the last couple of years,” he said.
The American Legion has endorsed Pombo, according to Stockton-based national legislative Vice Chairman Leo Burke, who said Pombo voted in favor of legislation that increased medical funding for disabled veterans and that banned protests at military funerals.
McNerney is one of the five candidates across the nation endorsed by the left-leaning, three-month-old Iraq Veterans for Progress political action committee.
“The main concern comes down to Iraq — you’ve got a candidate in Pombo who’s in lockstep with the Bush administration, and their policies haven’t worked,” said Los Angeles-based director Tim Goodrich, one of the four Iraq veterans featured in McNerney’s advertisements. “We wanted to support a candidate who has a vision to bring our troops home.”
Marilyn Chorley of Military Moms Tracy said she believes there are around 45 people from Tracy serving in Iraq. Five men from Tracy — Marine Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Menusa, Army Staff Sgt. Steven Bridges, Army Pfc. Jesse Martinez, Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon Dewey, and McCaffrey — have died fighting there since 2003.
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