Notes from May 15 Tracy Press forum for the Republican primary, with Pombo, McCloskey, and Tom Benigno in attendance:
Put it this way: If someone walked in off the street, and knew nothing about the race, he would not walk away convinced that Pombo should be re-elected. Pombo is going on the "rah-rah, hometown boy" support he has had for many years in Tracy, but I don't see him convincing any new voters with a performance like he gave last night. There were no new ideas or programs for the district. There were no calls for solutions to the district's problems, no leadership on how to improve transportation, air quality, housing affordability, or education, no programs to fight crime, no bold initiatives, nothing that would inspire someone to vote for him.
There sat Pombo, looking tired, a bit worn out, a bit bothered by the whole thing. The word that came to my mind was "petulant". "Petulant Pombo" -- irritated, annoyed. Putting up with the forum, but with a look like "why can't I be at a fundraiser right now, where everyone praises me and gives me money? I have been in Congress over 13 years, why do I still have to put with stuff like this? Why do I have to bother campaigning?"
Both McCloskey and Benigno slammed him on ethical lapses and his ties to indicted members of Congress (Tom DeLay), to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the whole Republican "culture of corruption". Pombo responded with an irritable defense of his ethics, in an "I am not a crook"-style speech.
Pombo's remarks also included frequent reminders that he grew up in Tracy and that he was fighting for what he believed in (without mentioning that those beliefs are far out of the mainstream). His family was there as were many of his local supporters. They cheered him when he spoke or when he made digs at McCloskey. Surprisingly, there were also a good number of McCloskey supporters who cheered when McCloskey spoke. The Pombo supporters were louder, but McCloskey's were not far behind.
Overall, my impression is that Richard Pombo is vulnerable. He is besieged by ethical questions and in a defensive mode. The right candidate running the right campaign through the summer and fall has a real chance of beating him. The district seems to be feeling "Pombo fatigue" and asking itself if there might be someone else they could vote for.
I mean, not everyone in the 11th District went to high school with him or knows his extended family. Those who didn't seem to be having a hard time finding reasons to support someone who has proved himself corrupt, unethical, and hellbent on rewarding his corporate contributors while overturning all of our environmental protections.
Articles on forum:
Contra Costa Times
Associated Press story