A brawl with it all for Doolittle's House seat

The race for retiring Rep. John Doolittle’s (R-Calif.) seat has a little bit of everything: alleged scandal, carpetbagging charges, self-funding and lots of bad blood — and that’s just on the GOP side.

Former Rep. Doug Ose and state Sen. Tom McClintockThomas (Tom) Milller McClintockGOP lawmaker defends Newsom for breaking 'idiotic' COVID-19 rules GOP's McClintock fends off challenger in California Republicans in campaign mode for top spots on House environmental committees MORE have been going at it now for just over a month and a half in an intense sprint of a Republican race in one of the most desirable Republican open seats in the country. Early voting, which could account for half or more of the ballots, begins in just two weeks for the June 3 primary.


McClintock is the early and heavy favorite — a February poll conducted for McClintock supporters by independent Moore Information had him leading Ose 43-11 — but Ose has shown the willingness to go after his opponent hard, accusing him of political opportunism, ethical baggage and a host of other sins, and he’s got more than enough money to see what sticks.

In a cycle rife with self-funders, Ose has proven among the most potent and deliberate, dropping $850,000 into his campaign in a matter of weeks. That came on top of another $400,000 in cash left over from his previous campaign committee.

When McClintock was weighing the race, Ose promised a $500,000 advertising blitz if the former gubernatorial candidate got in, and he delivered. On top of that came another $200,000 spent on message and campaign infrastructure before March 31.

“This would not be much of a race but for Ose’s money,” said local Democratic consultant Jim Ross, who grew up in the 4th district. “Ose is a very smart politician, his early media [messages] have him with community leaders, and he is working hard to introduce himself to voters who probably don’t know him. So the question is, can McClintock overcome the building Ose machine?”

Many of Ose’s ties come thanks to his three terms in Congress in the neighboring 3rd district between 1999 and 2005, as well as his proximity to the district. McClintock has lots of credibility with grassroots conservatives around the state as a multiple-time statewide candidate, but he represents a state Senate district hundreds of miles away.

Ose has a lengthy list of local endorsements and the backing of 12 of California’s 19 Republican congressmen, as well as two former governors — Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian. McClintock has been endorsed by California GOP Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, John Campbell and Elton Gallegly.

In addition to McClintock’s frequent campaigning and long-distance move — Ose adviser Richard Temple says McClintock is “competing with [Sen.] Hillary Clinton [D-N.Y.] on this” — Ose more recently has hit McClintock for accepting tax-free state Senate per diem despite selling his district home years ago.

Ose contends that doesn’t jibe with McClintock’s conservative campaign pitch and launched an ad in recent days on the topic.

McClintock has pointed out that, in accepting the payments, he’s done nothing illegal and that he’s hardly the only member of the legislature doing it. He also notes that his family has lived in the Sacramento area since he returned to the state legislature in 1996 (the district stretches from Sacramento to the northeast corner of the state).

Of the serial-campaigner charge, he makes no apologies and casts himself as a conservative crusader of sorts.

“Benjamin Franklin once said a ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for,” McClintock said. “I have run many races in pursuit of [conservative] objectives.”

While Ose has focused his campaign almost exclusively on conduct and results, McClintock said the race is almost completely about ideology and has cast Ose as a liberal Republican.

“There cannot possibly be a stronger contrast,” McClintock said, ticking off ratings from gun rights groups, taxpayer groups and anti-illegal immigration groups that illustrate his point.

The former congressman built a centrist record during his time in Congress, mostly on economic and social issues, and his National Taxpayer Union rating was generally to the left of most Republicans.

Ose downplays the importance and substance of ideological differences between him and McClintock.

“I’ve always found that elective politics is all about getting stuff done,” Ose said. “I’m not going to sit and debate over how many philosophical angels dance on the head of a pin.”

McClintock concedes he will be outspent in the race, but he raised $320,000 in a shortened first quarter and has amassed millions for past statewide runs. His electoral history in the district has proven strong, including taking about three-fifths of the vote there during his lieutenant governor campaign in 2006, and he also maintains very high favorability ratings among GOP voters.

But Ose’s campaign is quick to point out that McClintock also lost his 2002 state controller primary in the district to businessman Dean Andal, who is now running in the state’s other big congressional race against freshman Rep. Jerry McNerney (D).

Despite losing the area, McClintock won the primary and has since run for governor and lieutenant governor, further increasing his familiarity there.

Whoever wins the GOP primary could have a tough race on his hands, though, despite the GOP lean of the district.
Democrat Charlie Brown, who fell three points shy of a huge upset of Doolittle in 2006, is running again and got an earlier start this time. He was added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue program in January and has already raised nearly $1 million for the race this cycle.

Brown, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, also has a leg up in a district with one of the highest populations of veterans in the country.

All things equal, the district should theoretically be an easy win for Republicans, but Doolittle’s ethical issues and a potentially damaging primary could help compromise that.

In 2006, the GOP lost several ethically stained seats despite replacing those members  with new candidates.

Brown is running as a nonpartisan consensus-builder and says Doolittle will matter this year.

“I don’t have to tie them to John Doolittle; they do it every time they open their own mouths.”