GOP optimistic, even in Bay Area

SEPT. 7, 2010


Last week’s candidates forum in Brentwood (the one near the Delta) was an opportunity to see the latest batch of Republican candidates undertaking one of the most quixotic challenges in politics: knocking off a liberal Bay Area Congress member. Knowing the stiff odds against most of them, even in this revolutionary year, a macabre interest in seeing a bunch of dead men walking might have drawn some to the forum.

But rather than lambs to the slaughter, the candidates were more like gladiators ready to take on the lions as they spoke of victory in November and tossed conservative raw meat to several hundred East Contra Costa Tea Party partisans in the Veterans Hall.

Listening to the fiery speeches and enthusiastic response, you’d hardly guess that three of the Congress members they are trying to unseat – Nancy Pelosi, George Miller and Pete Stark – collectively have 95 years in Congress. Democrats have represented Pelosi’s San Francisco district since 1949. She first took office in 1987 and usually receives 80 percent or more of the votes while her Republican opponents get 10-12 percent. Miller gained office 35 years ago, and usually wins by 50 points. Stark has been in Congress for 37 years and wins by 45-50 point margins.

But none of those grim statistics foretelling likely doom were discussed at the forum. All of the GOP candidates, including those facing newer congressmen – Jerry McNerney (four years) and John Garamendi (one year) – were upbeat about their electoral chances. The moderator set the tone: “We are looking at every district in the Bay Area as one, and will flip every one of them. If we can get the Bay Area, we can flip California and change the nation.”

Pelosi’s Seat

That optimistic dominoes theory was greeted with applause, but the biggest cheer of the two-hour forum occurred when John Dennis walked to the podium and said, “I’m John Dennis. I’m running against Nancy Pelosi.” As the hall erupted in applause, Dennis smiled, said, “Thank you” and pretended to walk away as people laughed, then adding, “Do I have to say anything else? She’s God’s gift to applause lines. A lot of people are running and doing fundraisers and saying, ‘My opponent votes 94 percent of the time with Nancy Pelosi.’ This is one thing I can promise you: My opponent votes 100 percent of the time with Nancy Pelosi.”

Dennis gave the crowd what they wanted to hear, criticizing the mixed economic signals from the White House and Congress: “We have regime uncertainty. Which is a polite way of saying, ‘We don’t know what these nuts are going to do next.’ They talk about stimulating the economy. Nancy Pelosi is saying she knows how to spend your money in a way that can magically get the economy going. The American people can do better; they don’t need Nancy Pelosi’s help. It’s time to get her out of the way.”

Dennis, a businessman who grew up in a Jersey City public housing project, acknowledged that people come up to him and say, ‘Why are you dong this? What is the point?’ I’m fed up. And sick of hearing people like Nancy Pelosi lie to our faces about what they are doing. This is not about trying to help people. It’s about her trying to grow the corporation she works for, which is the federal government. I’m fed up with it.”

It remains to be seen whether there are enough like-minded voters in the 8th Congressional District, but Dennis said internal polling indicates that Pelosi’s base is soft. “We are in a fight,” he said. “Can I win? You bet. You watch the world’s attention turn to San Francisco, and they are going to wonder, ‘Oh my God, what’s happening?’ Because we are coming to take Washington D.C. back. Washington D.C. is destroying America. Everything this country was built on has been destroyed by them.”

Dennis, who touts the support of Ron Paul, differed from the other Republican candidates by calling for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and criticizing Pelosi for not having done more to end them sooner.

McNerney’s Seat

Of the five Republican candidates at the event, the one with the best chance of winning is likely David Harmer. He is challenging Jerry McNerney in the 11th District, which straddles the Central Valley and East Bay. With an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, it may be the last competitive congressional district in California.

McNerney has been in office four years, having beaten incumbent Richard Pombo by 6.6 points in 2006, and beaten Dean Andal by 10.6 points in 2008. In a politically moderate district, McNerney likes to come across as moderate. But he’s also voted for the Wall Street bailouts, the stimulus, Obamacare, the deficit-ridden budget and cap-and-trade, placing him chest-deep in the political and economic muck with Pelosi, President Barack Obama and Sen. Harry Reid.

Harmer, an attorney who lost to John Garamendi by 10 points last year in the 10th Congressional District, is running even with McNerney (11 percent undecided) in a recent American Action Forum poll, according to the Contra Costa Times. Nearly three-fourths feel the nation is on the wrong track, which may equate into dissatisfaction with McNerney more than support for Harmer, whom only a quarter had even heard of, versus three quarters who knew or had heard of McNerney.

Harmer’s stump speech is remarkably Glenn Beck-like, beginning with, “Fellow counter-revolutionaries, the ship of state is listing badly and we need all hands on deck.” He led the crowd in a recitation of the beginning of the Declaration of Independence and quoted Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Calvin Coolidge and Reagan, throwing in Plutarch for good measure.

“The president has been quite open about his desire to transform America,” said Harmer. “Transform us into just another European-style, social-welfare, cradle-to-grave, nanny state, complete with a top-down, command-and-control, one-size-fits-all bureaucracy that always characterizes those states and a sclerotic economy to boot.”

Like the other candidates, Harmer listed the country’s economic woes: 14 million out of work, half for more than six months, one of every eight people relying on food stamps, stock market in decline, home prices down and foreclosures up. “For the first time since the Great Depression, a majority believe the next generation will have things worse than they do,” he said. “Less opportunity, less prosperity and less property. And those worries are justified.

“This will be the most consequential election of my life. Far more than in ’94. Not even then had a majority grown so arrogant and out of touch with the people it supposedly served.” Harmer cited the costs and regulations of Obamacare, the increase in the national debt, the failed stimulus, cap-and-trade, then said, “This litany of job-killing legislation is not bringing jobs back, because it represents Congressional arrogance run amok. It conflicts with the ideals of the American founding. It is not the job of government to attempt to right every wrong or solve every problem or address every grievance. Ultimately that’s what this is all about. Are we a free people or are we willing to barter away our freedom? If you are hapless victim that needs the care of a beneficent government in Washington D.C., this is probably not the meeting for you. But if you want to be left alone to create and grow, then let’s take back our country.”

Miller’s Seat

Rick Tubbs, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who is tilting at the Miller windmill in the northern East Bay’s 7th District, also believes he’s got a good shot in the coming upheaval election. “I want to give you some hope,” he said. “I’ve been fighting and working my tail off. George Miller usually wins by 70 percent – but nobody runs against him. Internal polls are incredibly optimistic – around 50 percent are undecided. Thirty-five years (of Miller) and they are undecided. That’s really where the sweet spot is in this election. The bridge between here and victory is getting our name and message out. We are going to win this thing. There are people saying, ‘You don’t have a chance.’ I’ve known I’ve had a chance for a long time. In internal polls more people are saying they are voting for me than Miller, and then you have the 50 percent undecided. I’m asking for your help. We are going to win this election. We are going to change things. Let’s take back our country.”

Pete Stark’s Seat

While the mention of Pelosi’s name sparked the loudest boos, close behind were the razzberries for the irascible Pete Stark who has chewed up and spit out Republicans for 37 years. Unfortunately, Chris Pareja, albeit supported by the Tea Party, is the longest of longshots – running as a write-in candidate after failing to collect the 9,260 signatures needed to get on the ballot as an independent.

Pareja, who is personable and has a future in Republican politics, criticized the Republican candidate, Forest Baker, saying he “would like to put us all in communes.” But he aimed most of his criticism at Stark, who, Pareja said, told a constituent at a Town Hall that “if we try to build a wall to secure the border he would start a ladder company. That is a treasonous statement to aid and abet the enemy. This whole immigration debate is being misrepresented about race and the U.S. versus Mexico. The political elite is neglecting that we have three other borders, air and sea and all have issues. It’s a national security issue. It’s a health issue. We have people bringing leprosy and typhoid fever into the country. We need to lock all of the borders down immediately.”

Garamendi’s Seat

Perhaps the Republican with the second best chance of an upset in November is Gary Clift. He is challenging John Garamendi, who has been in Congress just one year after beating Harmer in the special election to fill the remaining year of Ellen Tauscher’s term after she took a job in the State Department.

Clift, who spent 26 years in law enforcement, was the lowest key of the five candidates but seemed equally confident of victory in November. “My opponent was a California politician for almost 30 years,” he said. “California is bankrupt. The pain is still to come. We need $20 billion. He is one of the men who caused that. I have been in several debates with him, and he blames Bush, the Congress, the Republicans. He’s responsible too. I will win this November. This man is very vulnerable. I’m going to Congress to do the best job I can. This country needs to turn back and go in the correct direction. It’s very concerning.”

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