Monday, November 20, 2006

Deconstructing Pombo's Loss

Today's San Francisco Chronicle reports on an interview with Richard Pombo in which he discusses his recent upset loss:
Sitting at the long conference table in his committee office, Pombo dissected the numbers from election day. In 2004, he beat McNerney by 22 percentage points by winning 96,000 votes in San Joaquin County, which makes up the bulk of his 11th Congressional District and has been his political base. But two years later, he got less than half that total, just 45,000 votes.

He said the figures show how his opponents -- with a barrage of anti-Pombo mailers, billboards and TV and radio ads -- persuaded his voters to stay home.

"They couldn't win with the Democrats. They had to suppress the Republican vote," he said. "The last couple weeks what they were doing was walking, calling and mailing Republicans with a heavy, 'He's corrupt, it's time to get him out' thing to try to drive down the vote of Republicans. And it worked."

But it seems to me there is more to this story. It is true that in 2004, according to the California Secretary of State 66,865 more votes were cast in CA District 11 than in 2006. And it is true that Pombo got less than half his total from 2004 in 2006 in San Joaquin County.

But there are also some spectacular differences. In 2004 Richard Pombo outspent Jerry McNerney on the order of 6.5 to 1. According to Open Secrets, Pombo raised $1,100,380 in the 2004 election cycle and spent $1,017,709. On the otherhand, McNerney raised $156,886 and spent $154,701. But in 2006, as of October 16,2006, again according to Open Secrets, Pombo had raised $3,764,773 and spent $2,818,013 while McNerney raised $1,584,258 and spent $1,256,837. So McNerney had raised more than 10 times what he raised in 2004 but Pombo was still outspending him by more than two to one.

To round out the money picture, we still need to add the final tallies for the NRCC in the anti-McNerney campaign and the DNCC plus environmental groups in their anti-Pombo campaign. Nevertheless, I would expect that when all the money is counted, Pombo will have a considerable advantage. And, of course, both sides engaged in lots of negative campaigning.

In 2004, Pombo took every single county within District 11 - in 2006, only one. In the end, the most important reason for Pombo's defeat may have been grass roots support and Get Out The Vote efforts for McNerney. In a year where the total number of votes was down by one third, Jerry McNerney was up by 2.8% but Richard Pombo was down by a whopping 42.6%. Were there any comparable results in other 2006 Districts?

Apparantly the advantages of incumbancy and money were not enough this year. Pombo's support crumbled and Pombo apparently has come to believe that voters did not so much object to his record in congress as to the portrayal of that record by environmental groups. More likely, the failure was with Pombo's own record of extremism on environmental issues and his self-inflicted corruption related wounds (family on his PAC payroll, Indian gaming interest contributions and Mariana Islands sweatshop shenanigans). And finally, his own GOTV effort obviously did not match the success on behalf of McNerney.

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