Nunes hopes to pick up seats in Calif.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) says that he will help recruit viable GOP candidates in as many as eight California congressional districts should a hotly contested redistricting measure pass next month.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) says that he will help recruit viable GOP candidates in as many as eight California congressional districts should a hotly contested redistricting measure pass next month.

Nunes said he informed Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), that the recruitment drive would include helping candidates raise $500,000 apiece. “The way you get serious money from the NRCC is you raise serious money yourself,” said Nunes, one of the earliest and most vocal supporters of the measure, Proposition 77.

For now, it’s anyone’s guess how the proposition will fare when the voters weigh in Nov. 8. But the measure has gained momentum.

A Field poll released in early September showed 46 percent of voters against the measure versus 32 percent for it.

The survey also indicated that voters who knew more about the measure were more likely to back it.

Since the Field poll was conducted — another survey will be released next week, a Field Research Corp. pollster said — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has launched an aggressive campaign supporting his four “reform measures,” including Proposition 77.

That campaign has included a statewide media blitz and rallies featuring the governor across the state. Both those in favor of the measure and those against — mostly Democratic officials and leaders of public-employee unions — say the other side has outspent them.

In total, activists from both sides agree that at least $100 million has been devoted to the proposition debate, which also includes measures that would likely curb the unions’ political activity and change the state budget process.

A growing number of newspapers in the state have endorsed the measure.

Nunes’s recruiting effort would mark the first time in years that Republicans have mounted full-throttled campaigns against Democratic Reps. Loretta Sanchez, Joe Baca and Lois Capps, all of whom have been mentioned as potential targets.

Other Democrats who Nunes and fellow Republicans said could be in for competitive campaigns in 2006 include Reps. Dennis Cardoza, Jim Costa, Ellen Tauscher, Linda Sanchez and either Susan Davis or Bob Filner, who both represent voters in the San Diego area.

His comments also appear to mark a shift for Republican backers of the measure.

Supporters, including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), have said the proposition was not a Texas-redistricting-style drive to pick up House seats but a way of restoring integrity to the system, even though many of those who collected signatures to put the measure on the ballot also led the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis (D).

Nunes’s comments suggest that some Republicans see a possible opportunity in the proposition, which would shift the job of redrawing congressional and state legislative-district lines from the Democratic-controlled state Legislature to a panel of retired judges.

NRCC spokesman Carl Forti could not confirm that Nunes had spoken with Reynolds, saying that Reynolds was unavailable yesterday. The NRCC has taken no public position on the measure.

Ted Costa, one of Proposition 77’s key supporters and a longtime conservative activist, said that even if the measure passes he doesn’t expect incumbents to help defeat their colleagues, irrespective of party affiliation. But Costa did say he anticipates that the redistricting change would lead to seriously contested races, although he added it may take a few election cycles before it dawns on voters — and potential candidates — that districts are competitive.

House Democrats from California, meanwhile, have been campaigning against the measure.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led the fundraising effort, many Democrats said. One Democratic House aide said Pelosi had asked members personally to raise as much as $100,000 for the effort.

Pelosi’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Crider, declined to comment on any conversations between Pelosi and House members.

The proposition was discussed yesterday at a California Democratic members’ lunch in the House Dining Room. Neither Capps nor Baca would say much about the meeting, other than that all 33 Democrats from the state’s House delegation oppose the measure. “We’re all in this together,” Capps said.

Loretta Sanchez said she had organized a “ground campaign” to fight the measure. Filner, who is facing a tough primary, said he has spoken about the issue at rallies but focused on his own campaign.

Most Democrats say they support the idea of redistricting but oppose the timing of the measure’s effective date, before the 2010 census. Democrats say the measure would disenfranchise millions of newcomers to the state.

Republicans, for the most part, also have quietly opposed the proposition, apparently concerned that it will jeopardize the seats they hold in Democratic-leaning California; the governor’s support has muted much of that opposition.

Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) opposes the measure on the grounds that a panel of retired judges — who would not be directly accountable to voters — should not be in charge of redistricting. Supporters say elected representatives shouldn’t be permitted to choose their constituents; constituents, they say, should be permitted to choose their representatives.

Toomey: Cut spending or risk backlash

In a possible sign of primaries to come, Club for Growth President Pat Toomey has declared that Republicans face “a defining moment,” saying they must cut spending as part of the budget-reconciliation debate or shirk their pledge to shrink government.

“Thus far, no Democrats have shown any interest in controlling spending,” said Toomey, a former congressman whose organization backs tax cuts and limited government. “But it is Republicans who have majorities in Congress, so they have the responsibility.”

Many conservatives have warned that Republican incumbents could face challenges from their right in the upcoming congressional races if they ignore their party’s base.

Toomey, who ran unsuccessfully in such a campaign last year against Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), added that the Club’s 32,000 members “are deeply troubled by the growth in federal spending under the Republican majority.” He noted that “if Republicans can’t see the need the rein in federal spending even now, they will have abandoned the one big idea that unites the Republican coalition. And if that happens, core elements of that coalition may in fact abandon the Republican Party before the 2006 elections.”

Alexander Bolton contributed to this report