Reporting from Washington — Introducing a bit of drama into a usually lackluster California House race, Richard W. Pombo, a former Republican congressional heavyweight who was defeated in a reelection bid in 2006, plans to try for a political comeback -- in a different district than the one in which he lost.
The one-time House Resources Committee chairman is running for the Central Valley seat being vacated by Rep. George Radanovich (R-Mariposa), setting up a GOP primary battle against state Sen. Jeff Denham and former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson. Former California Secretary of State Bill Jones is said to be considering entering the race, too. The district is strongly Republican.
"I have decided to run . . . to go back to Washington and get back in the middle of the wars," Pombo said Tuesday on KMJ-AM (580), a talk radio station in Fresno.
The 14-year House veteran was defeated by Democrat Jerry McNerney in a nationally watched race, in part because of efforts by environmentalists opposed to Pombo's efforts to relax environmental laws. He was the only California House incumbent to lose a seat in the 2006 election, when Democrats took over the House in a campaign that highlighted scandals under GOP rule. Pombo came under attack for ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and for putting family members on his campaign payroll.
Pombo's Tracy ranch is outside of the 19th Congressional District, but there is no district residency requirement to run for Congress. Asked about probable attacks on him as a carpetbagger, Pombo, who turns 49 on Friday, said by phone, "I've always been a Central Valley guy, and this is a Central Valley district."
Pombo vowed, if elected, to revive his efforts to rewrite the Endangered Species Act. Environmental groups are gearing up for a new battle.
"We're not about to stand by and watch Pombo grab his carpetbag and return to Congress a mere four years after we worked so hard to oust him," Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, said in a statement.
In addition to environmentalists trying to thwart him, Pombo also faces opposition in the Republican primary from Denham, who Radanovich has backed as his replacement.
Denham, who lives in the Central Valley town of Atwater, which is also outside of the congressional district, is being pushed out of the Senate by term limits. He had planned to run for lieutenant governor next year but backed out of that race after Republican state Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria was nominated for the post.
Denham's campaign consultant Dave Gilliard indicated that Pombo's announcement would not change Denham's plans.
"I think there's a lot of concern over Richard Pombo's ability to hold the seat for Republicans," Gilliard said.
David N. Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said the former congressman faces "the double challenge of resurrecting a political career that was struck down by ethics questions and defeat and running in a new district. I can't think of too many people, Democrats or Republicans, who have overcome both."
Radanovich said he is retiring to spend more time with his wife, Ethie, who is battling ovarian cancer, and his son.