Friday, November 10, 2006

Congressman Jerry McNerney!

One last Jerry McNerney post from the AP via the San Jose Mercury News:
It's 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' for Calif Democrat McNerney
Associated Press

DUBLIN, Calif. - The "Jerry McNerney for Congress" sign outside his campaign headquarters has been crossed out. Somebody's scrawled in red: "U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney!"

The exclamation point of amazement says it all.

On Tuesday, McNerney, a little-known Democrat with a math Ph.D. but no experience in elected office, shoved out one of California's most powerful Republican incumbents even though nobody thought he could.

Seven-term lawmaker Richard Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee that writes environmental laws, will go back to his Tracy cattle ranch come January. McNerney will go to Congress.

"It became a mountain, a tidal wave," a sleep-deprived but happy McNerney said Thursday of the grass-roots support, helped along by high-spending environmental groups, that swept him into office.

"I have a challenge to show them that I'm there for them," he said. "I'm ready for the challenge."

McNerney will represent California's 11th Congressional District that takes in portions of the San Joaquin Valley and the eastern San Francisco Bay area. The district is gaining Democratic voters as bay area commuters move in, but Republicans still outnumber Democrats by 5.6 percent among registered voters.

Those GOP-friendly numbers are forcing McNerney to think ahead even as he fielded back-to-back congratulatory calls Thursday from fellow California Democrats and well-wishers around the country.

"It's going to be a contested race in 2008, we certainly recognize that," McNerney, 55, said in an interview at his campaign headquarters, in a nondescript office building above an electrical workers' union.

After working for years as a wind-energy engineer and consultant, his hope is to earn constituents' support by pushing in Washington for alternative-energy projects that will bring jobs to his district.

"The new energy economy - I want it to be centered right here," he said.

The walls of McNerney's campaign office were plastered with cutouts of multicolored cowboy boots, to symbolize kicking out Pombo, who's known for his cowboy boots.

There was also a photo of McNerney with Bill Clinton, who drew a huge crowd at a rain-soaked late-night rally in the campaign's final days.

When they met, McNerney said, Clinton pinned him with his intense gaze and declared: "You're going to win this."

"I was kind of numb," McNerney said.

He ended up beating Pombo 53 percent to 47 percent. Two years ago McNerney lost to Pombo, 39 percent to 61 percent.

McNerney didn't have the support of national Democrats in his party's primary. They backed retired Navy reservist Steve Filson, who had the hawkish profile the party was looking for. McNerney opposes the Iraq war and supports setting a timetable to get troops out.

But McNerney had a strong grass-roots operation dating from 2004 when he ran as a write-in candidate in the Democratic primary. It carried him to easy victory over Filson, boosted him over Pombo and, he hopes, will help him keep his seat in campaigns to come.

McNerney, who is married with three adult children, has worked as an engineer and consultant at Sandia National Laboratory and private companies including US Windpower/Kenetech. Several years ago he launched his own company to market a new wind turbine design, but had trouble attracting investors and abandoned it to run for Congress.

He's also written unpublished novels and a diet satire book. In recent years he has lived off a home equity loan and a small family trust.

Pombo tried to use McNerney's unconventional background to cast him as unreliable and flakey, but to some supporters it's an asset.

McNerney said that he'll be the only math Ph.D. in Congress - adding that he doesn't expect that to do him much good.

"He's like a brainiac," said Victor Uno, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 595 that's housed downstairs from McNerney's campaign office.

"In D.C. we don't need politicians, we need people with integrity, values," Uno said. "It's like 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.'"

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