GOP Rep. Pombo Loses to Little-Known Democrat; Doolittle Wins
11/8/2006 -- LOS ANGELES (AP) -- GOP Rep. Richard Pombo, the powerful chairman of the House Resources Committee, plunged to stunning defeat at the hands of an almost unknown Democrat, Jerry McNerney, as Democrats wrested control of the House from the GOP.
GOP Rep. John Doolittle beat down a strong challenge from Democrat Charlie Brown in Tuesday's midterm election, surviving a boisterous campaign that focused on the incumbent's ties to a congressional corruption investigation.
San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi was in line to be the first female House speaker ever as Democrats captured more than two dozen GOP-controlled seats around the country.
McNerney, 55, a wind-energy consultant and novelist who is living off a family trust and has never held elected office, lost badly to Pombo two years ago. This time he roared back in the campaign's final weeks as the national mood shifted toward Democrats and national environmental groups spent heavily to make the race a referendum on Pombo's ethical issues and industry-friendly legislating.
"We are going to change the direction of this country," McNerney told ecstatic supporters. "I knew from the beginning that the people would stand up and do what's right for this country."
Pombo, a seven-term incumbent whose committee is responsible for the nation's environmental laws and public lands, left his election night party before the results were final without conceding defeat.
Earlier Tuesday evening he told reporters: "I fought for 14 years and I wouldn't change a thing."
Aides said there would be no further comment until later Wednesday.
"Rep. Richard Pombo's loss represents the most significant electoral victory the environmental movement has seen in decades," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund. "It should now be clear to all that we have the political strength to take on and defeat extreme anti-environmental politicians."
Environmentalists opposed Pombo for efforts to rewrite species protections and increase oil drilling in Alaska and off-shore while fundraising from industry groups. He also faced questions about ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in a congressional influence peddling scandal.
But McNerney was written off as too liberal by national party leaders, who backed a different candidate in the primary to represent the district that includes portions of the San Joaquin Valley and the eastern San Francisco Bay area.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, McNerney had 53 percent to Pombo's 47 percent.
Doolittle won 50 percent of the vote to Brown's 45 percent with 90 percent of precincts reporting. The margin was far closer than usual for the powerful eight-term incumbent and a measure of the inroads Brown made in Doolittle's rock-solid Republican district that stretches from Sacramento to the Nevada border and north to Oregon.
"No Republican is ever going to take Congressional District 4 for granted again," said Brown, first-time candidate who's a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and a former Republican.
The Abramoff lobbying scandal cost Doolittle his comfort margin. Doolittle, a member of the House GOP leadership, took campaign money from Abramoff and interceded on behalf of his clients, while his wife also worked for Abramoff. Unlike Pombo, Doolittle refused to give Abramoff's campaign cash to charity.
GOP Rep. Brian Bilbray beat Democrat Francine Busby Tuesday in their rematch in the San Diego-area district formerly held by disgraced ex-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
Bilbray beat Busby in June in a special election to replace Cunningham, who is in jail after pleading guilty to bribery and resigning last year. That contest drew a national spotlight amid a focus on congressional corruption, but their rematch attracted less attention.
Pombo's seat was the only one to change parties in California, where redistricting has generally made House districts safe for parties controlling them.
In Orange County, Democrat Loretta Sanchez scored an easy win over Tan Nguyen. The Republican was at the center of an uproar after his campaign was linked to a letter warning some immigrants they could go to jail if they voted.
The state's only open House seat was in Bakersfield. Republican state Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy beat Democrat Sharon Beery to replace House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, who is retiring.
In California's U.S. Senate race, Democrat Dianne Feinstein easily beat Republican Dick Mountjoy in her bid for a third full term.
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