Views differ on Doolittle’s county decline
While Rep. John Doolittle (R-Roseville) hung onto his congressional seat this week, Democratic challenger Charlie Brown won a surprising victory in Nevada County, and the rest of the 4th District saw an unusually close race.
“There was a huge outpouring of support for change and doing the right thing,” Brown said.
But Doolittle blamed his declining popularity on “frustrated Democrats” who have created a negative national climate and caused his constituents to misperceive him.
Brown rode a national wave of Democratic support that saw the party gain control of the United States Congress for the first time in 12 years. The challenger’s campaign also was helped by the baggage of numerous corruption charges that Doolittle carried into the election.
The congressman’s office is under investigation by the Justice Department, according to the Washington Post; Doolittle has said he has not been contacted by the department. Other former top House Republicans were convicted or sentenced to prison this year on corruption charges stemming from dealings with criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff or military contractor Brent Wilkes, both of whom donated to Doolittle and have additional ties to the congressman.
Doolittle also pays his wife a commission of 15 percent on some funds his campaign raises, a practice that has been criticized by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and seems to allow Doolittle to benefit personally from campaign contributions.
“We ran a good campaign, given the circumstances,” said Doolittle spokesman Richard Robinson.
As political observers try to decipher Brown’s close race, the county’s political demographics make it even more remarkable.
District 4 is 48 percent registered Republican to 30 percent registered Democrat. In Nevada County, 43 percent of voters are registered Republican and 32 percent are registered Democrat.
Yet, after carrying the district easily in eight previous races, Doolittle narrowly defeated Brown districtwide, taking 49 percent of the vote to Brown’s 46 percent.
And Nevada County chose Brown, voting for him 54 percent to Doolittle’s 41 percent, the only county in the district to pick the challenger.
“I think there was a negative climate that existed throughout the country this year, and I’m hopeful that climate will change,” Doolittle told The Associated Press. “Before, you had all these frustrated Democrats. Now that the Democrats are in control of the House, that has taken some of the pressure off.”
Now, the congressman said, “I am very much in listening mode and wanting to hear what the real message is from this election.”
Many in Nevada County were upset by Doolittle’s recommendation that they “hire a lobbyist” to garner more government funding. The congressman also skipped a Grass Valley voter forum attended by Brown and Libertarian candidate Dan Warren, and refused Brown’s request for a series of open debates throughout the district.
Now, Doolittle plans to visit the county more frequently. “I think we can spend more time there,” Robinson said.
Local environmental advocates also criticized Doolittle, who chose this year to not support a bill renewing the Clean Water Act.
War in Iraq was a key issue locally and across the country. Brown, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force whose son has served in Iraq, opposed Doolittle by advocating a timetable for withdrawal.
And though Doolittle maintains that American troops should stay in Iraq, he has taken hits from veterans groups who charge he has failed to support benefits for service people.
Both sides in the race charged the other with launching attack ads.
Doolittle supporters took issue with the many charges Brown fired against the congressman. Brown criticized Doolittle for blocking legislation that, Brown said, could have prevented sex slavery in the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands.
Others were offended by Doolittle’s strategy. One GOP mailer attacking Brown’s membership in the American Civil Liberties Union included a picture of a skinhead with a swastika tattoo. Doolittle also hammered away at Brown’s lack of condemnation for gay marriage and the ACLU’s defense of the free speech rights of the National Man-Boy Love Association.
The local Democratic party machine made a strong showing, as volunteers in Nevada County walked precincts and made live phone calls.
While county Republicans did not seem to match those efforts, Doolittle’s campaign headquarters in Placer County was active and aided by the Republican National Congressional Committee.
However, many people complained about “robo-calls” from the RNCC, automated messages left at late hours that some residents said sounded as though they came from Brown’s campaign.
“It’s over now. Thank goodness,” said Betty Hood, a member of the Nevada County Republican Party.
An influx of people from the Bay Area to rapidly growing Nevada County could partly account for the local trend against Doolittle, Robinson said. Brown spokesman Todd Stenhouse said results were closer near Brown’s hometown of Roseville; similarly, then Auburn Mayor Mike Holmes’ did well in the area during the Republican primary.
The candidates’ debate in Rocklin that likely did not reach voters in northern counties also explained voting patterns, Stenhouse said. Live broadcasts of the Rocklin debate were available only to private cable subscribers and those with high-speed Internet.
Despite winning less than half of the vote, the Roseville Republican is unlikely to shift his stand on environmental issues or the war in Iraq, Robinson said. “The congressman holds his positions because he’s a deeply principled person,” Robinson said.
However, Doolittle acknowledged that his wife’s fundraising commissions caused him trouble on the campaign trail, though he called the employment of relatives by members of Congress “fairly common.”
“I don’t think it’s a conflict of interst, but obviously it’s a concern to people, and we’ll just have to figure out how to address that concern,” Doolittle told the AP.
Doolittle “has every expectation to run again in 2008,” Robinson said, opening the possibility for a rematch.
“If (Doolittle) represents the district like I think it ought to be represented, then fine,” Brown said, adding residents need a member in the U.S. House of Representatives who talks to residents, pushes for clean air and water, veterans’ benefits and affordable health care.
“If things stay the same way here in the district,” Brown said, “we’ll see what happens.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. To reach Staff Writer Josh Singer, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4234.
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