Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Jerry McNerney: Winner

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Mahatma Gandhi

From the Contra Costa Times:
In huge upset, voters oust Pombo
By Lisa Vorderbrueggen, Thomas Peele and Ryan Huff

U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, once thought invincible in a safe GOP seat, has been turned out by voters in the Democratic storm that roared across the country Tuesday.

With all the precincts tallied, Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton held a solid lead of 6 percentage points and more than 10,000 votes.

At 12:12 a.m. Wednesday, McNerney stood in front of 10 American flags and hundreds of cheering supporters at the San Ramon Golf Club to declare victory.

"We won this thing --it's ours," he said, constantly interrupted by cheers. "I'm going to fight to create new jobs. We're going to become the country we know we can be. I'm looking to you to help inspire me. It's about the people -- we won over the monied interests. It's time to party."

And just like that, the Phd mathematician who lost to Pombo two years ago by 60,000 votes, walked into the loud crowd like a rock star.

The race will go down in California history as a massive upset in a district where the incumbent held a 6-percentage point party registration advantage going into Tuesday's election. No other district in the state has flipped parties with this large a registration gap.

Around midnight, McNerney received a congratulatory call from former President Bill Clinton, who campaigned with the Pleasanton Democrat.

In the Central Valley in a tiny place aptly named Waterloo, Pombo's party had turned grim.

The congressman left with his family shortly after midnight and made no concession speech nor had he called McNerney as of 1:15 a.m.

Pombo aides said they would wait until all votes had been counted. Pombo is expected to hold a press conference sometime Wednesday.

But it was a bitter loss for the proud incumbent who had easily won re-election six times and rose to become the chairman of the powerful House Resources Committee, where his conservative policies made him a prime target of environmentalists.

McNerney grabbed a narrow lead early in the evening and watched it widen as precincts were tallied. He won in Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties.

Remarkably, McNerney almost beat Pombo in San Joaquin County, the Republican's home and the place where his conservative base was expected to bolster losses from the more Democratic Bay Area portions of the district.

While Republicans fell all over the nation in a resounding repudiation of the Iraq War, President George Bush and a scandal-scarred Congress, Pombo also fell victim to his own conservative property rights record and aggressive opponents.

Environmentalists began targeting him more than a year ago and have spent more than $1.5 million on anti-Pombo electioneering.

The Sierra Club alone said it made 650,000 contacts with voters through phone calls, mailers and house visits, said its spokesman Eric Antebi.

"We were the X-factor in this race," he said. "Just look at when (First Lady) Laura Bush came to Pleasanton to sing Pombo's praises on the environment. That showed you where he was vulnerable."

More than 300 Sierra Club volunteers participated in get-out-the-vote efforts, Antebi said.

"We educated the voters about Pombo's poor environmental record and his ethical behavior," he said. "We made it possible for someone like Jerry McNerney to win without much name recognition or party support."

Pombo predicted that the presence of outside groups would backfire and galvanize his supporters. Thousands of Bay Area liberals carpooled and boarded buses to walk precincts in the district, all in the hopes of helping the Democrats seize control of Congress.

But despite a campaign warchest of nearly $4 million and another $1.5 million worth of electioneering by the national Republican Party, Pombo was unable to combat the combined effects of the national mood, his own record and determined opponents.

Pombo was unsuccessful in his attempt to paint McNerney as a liberal, flip-flopper who had exaggerated his energy resume and did not represent the conservative values of District 11.

It's unclear how many voters checked the "Anybody But Pombo" box.

But for his part, McNerney, a political neophyte who raised more than $2 million for his campaign, said voters were fed up with the Bush administration and Republicans.

"I hope I gave them a positive alternative," he said in an interview. "I knew we were going to win this from the beginning."

McNerney may have known it almost no one else expect him to pull off what many considered an impossible feat.

Even the national Democratic Party failed to dump much cash into the race. Privately, they viewed McNerney as too liberal to win or to hold onto the seat.

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