McClintock (L) and Brown debate
California’s Fourth Congressional District was never meant to be a toss-up. But several factors have combined to make the race between Democrat Charlie Brown and Republican Tom McClintock far closer than anyone thought.
California’s Fourth Congressional District was never meant to be a toss-up. It sprawls from the northeast Sacramento suburbs to the Oregon and Nevada borders, and has almost always been a safe GOP seat. But several factors have combined to make this year’s contest between Republican Tom McClintock and Democrat Charlie Brown far closer than expected. And less than a week before Election Day, it’s anyone’s guess who will win.
Start with a district that voted for President Bush by 11 points in 2004. Then, add retiring Republican congressman John Doolittle, who’s under federal investigation. Next, mix in a Democrat who built name recognition by running two years ago and a Republican who’s never lived in the district. And finally, add in the national anti-GOP mood. What do you get?
Hussey: “I would say it’s neck and neck right now.”
Wesley Hussey is an assistant professor of government at Sacramento State.
Hussey: “The Doolittle factor, the 2008 Democratic sweep that’s probably gonna happen, and that McClintock has been accused of being a carpetbagger – all of them add up into making it a very contested race.”
It’s also a very entertaining one. The two candidates, Charlie Brown and Tom McClintock, aren’t afraid to debate each other – or take personal jabs from just a couple feet apart, as they did last week in rural Nevada County.
McClintock: “Now Charlie, I don’t believe you maliciously want to send our nation into another depression. I just don’t think you have a clue of how the economy operates, and I think you need to go back and take some basic economics before you start making statements like that.”
Brown: “It’s nice to talk about balancing a budget. I’m running my campaign on a budget, within budget. Tom, your campaign’s in debt. You can’t even run your own campaign on a balanced budget. I don’t trust you running the national budget.”
McClintock is a Republican State Senator who currently represents Southern California and a former candidate for governor and lieutenant governor. He’s a conservative favorite with a clear political philosophy:
McClintock: “I speak for a constituency that wants government out of our pockets, away from our families, out of our faces and out of our lives.”
He’s finishing up a 22-year career in the California legislature. There, he authored the state’s current lethal injection law, helped overturn the car tax after the 2003 recall, and most recently, strongly opposed any new taxes to help balance the state budget. In fact, he almost always opposes those budgets, saying they flat-out spend too much. McClintock says he’d take his conservative principles to Washington, DC.
McClintock: “I feel that I’ve been very, very effective, and I want to apply that same kind of leadership in Washington. Especially when we have the prospect of a Barack Obama administration, don’t we need the strongest and loyalist opposition to put a break on some of the radical tax increases that he’s proposed?”
Meanwhile, Democrat Charlie Brown, a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, has never held public office. He says his career shapes his beliefs as well.
Brown: “When I was in the Air Force and the military, two times I got shot up was doing stuff with the Marines. This is about coming together. Don’t care if you’re a man, a woman, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. I learned to work together in the military to keep people alive and get a job done. That’s what I wanna do in Congress representing this district.”
While McClintock has staked out a clear stand on one side of the aisle, Brown’s positions are a bit more mixed. He opposed the War in Iraq from the start and favors universal health care. He also supports securing the borders and curbing spending to balance the federal budget. He’s pro-choice and pro-gun. Brown says despite the district’s strong Republican tilt and some of his own more liberal positions, he believes he is a better fit than McClintock.
Brown: “I’m running to do the right thing, and the right thing cuts across party lines. This talk of red vs. blue – we’re supposed to be red, white and blue here.”
What makes this race even tougher to figure out is that many Republican local elected officials aren’t publicly endorsing either candidate. In fact, it wasn’t easy finding one of them to talk for this story. They’re nervous about whether McClintock – who’s famous for railing against reckless spending – would bring as much federal funds back to the district as John Doolittle. Placer County Supervisor Jim Holmes says some of the people he talks with have questions.
Holmes: “With Mr. McClintock coming in from out of the area, there is an ambivalence from some of the Republican voters and some of the constituents that I talk to that are concerned about that, concerned that, well, will he truly represent Placer County if he goes to Congress?”
On the other hand, Holmes says, these lifelong Republicans may struggle to support a Democrat like Charlie Brown. So in this conservative district, the race could be in the hands of moderate Republicans. They’ll have to decide whether to stick with their own party … or vote for a Democrat.