GOP officials urging embattled Calif. Rep. Doolittle not to seek reele

As speculation mounts about his future, Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) is being urged by friends and colleagues not to seek reelection.

Republican operatives fear that if Doolittle does not retire at the end of this Congress and survives what would be a bruising GOP primary, they will lose the nine-term lawmaker’s seat. Doolittle is under an ethics cloud, having had his Virginia house investigated by the FBI last year. Several prominent Republicans are seeking to defeat him in the primary.

According to three well-placed Republican sources, former Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) — who lost his seat amid ethics allegations — has called on longtime friend Doolittle to not seek reelection in the interest of keeping the district a GOP stronghold. In the last Congress, Pombo was a panel chairman while Doolittle was a member of GOP leadership.

Pombo could not be reached for comment.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) expressed confidence that the seat would remain securely in GOP hands.  President Bush won the district by 61 percent in 2004.

“This is a very Republican seat and we expect it to stay in the red column,” said NRCC spokeswoman Julie Shutley.

Yet, some Republicans believe this is only achievable if Doolittle retires. He narrowly won reelection in 2006, defeating Democrat Charlie Brown by three percentage points.

Jon Fleischman, a leader in the California Republican Party, pointed to Doolittle’s paltry fundraising. At the end of September, Doolittle had $37,995 cash on hand and was $34,758 in debt.

“The reality is that if you can’t raise money for reelection, [it will be a tough race],” Fleischman said. “John Doolittle does not want to retire … but he does not want to cost the party the seat.”

Fleischman added, “If he is not the Republican nominee, this becomes a safe seat … it’s his unique situation that makes this seat competitive.”

The FBI raided his Oakton, Va., home in an attempt to gain information about Sierra Dominion, a fundraising company operated by his wife, Julie, that received payments from Jack Abramoff.

Doolittle has denied any wrongdoing. After the raid, Doolittle vacated his seat on the Appropriations Committee.

On Monday, Doolittle spokesman Ron Rogers insisted the lawmaker would seek reelection. Rogers could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Still, many on Capitol Hill believe Doolittle’s retirement announcement is imminent but that he wanted to depart on his own terms.

“It’s likely,” said one GOP lobbyist. “That’s what the House GOP brass is talking about and is assuming is going to happen.”

Rep. John Campbell, a California Republican, last year called on Doolittle not to seek reelection, saying, “I am very concerned about the situation in that district and our ability to comfortably hold what is a safe Republican district.”

Should Doolittle survive a primary challenge he will once again face Brown, who had $382,767 cash on hand and debt of $18,554 at the end of September.

Susan Crabtree and Aaron Blake contributed to this report.