Tracy, CA -- So, what is this election going to be like, anyway?
One clue lies here, about fifty miles east of San Francisco, in the district of House Resources Chair, Richard Pombo. Pombo is in big trouble. Private polls show him losing to both of the leading Democratic challengers in November; his re-elects are well below the 50 percent danger mark. It's even possible he won't make it past June.
After initially dismissing his Republican challenger, former Congressman, Earth Day founder and veteran, Pete McCloskey, as too "70s" to take seriously, Pombo finally agreed to debate him next Monday. He's still ducking a second, League of Women Voters debate later in May, but if he doesn't fare well against McCloskey on Monday, can he afford to wimp out against this ex-Marine who took on Richard Nixon over Vietnam? It seems doubtful.
Pombo is vulnerable because his district is changing. He has a huge number of new voters who are not in the habit of voting for him and haven't heard anything good about him since they moved into the area. What's more, his behavior is -- well -- strange. He's currently facing 13 ethics complaints. Among other things, the Congressman used public funds to take his family on a 10-day RV vacation in the national parks (this, shortly before he proposed selling off 15% of the National Park system). Pombo also took a quarter of his 2004 campaign contributions and used them to pay his wife and other family members. And he proudly admits that he used his Congressional office to interfere with federal criminal investigations of billionaire Charles Hurwitz-- a major political contributors. Furthermore, Pombo is close to Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay, and Bob Ney -- the Ohio Congressman who's a target of the Abramoff investigation.
But voters don't care about the ethics as much as they are repulsed by the politics. Here is a man who not only proposes to sell national parks, but also wants to gut the Endangered Species Act, resume commercial whaling and open the California coast to offshore drilling. Pombo, in short, is the perfect symbol of both the substance and the sleaze of this Congress.
As for Congress as a whole, political analyst Charles Cook, the gold standard of insider Congressional analysis, said last week, that the Republican majority faced a bumpy road ahead," primarily because their own voters are turned off and offended by the record. Cook said that "when respondents were asked which party they would like to see in control of Congress after these elections, Democrats had an advantage of 11 points among all adults, 48-37 percent, 12 points among registered voters, 49-37 percent, and 17 points among the most likely voters, 53-36 percent." These are numbers like those that produced the Gingrich landslide in 1994 -- but this far out, they may or may not hold.
So what will the GOP's strategy be? It's hard to imagine a scenario in which Republican troops get enthused about this deficit, this war, or this ethical climate. If conservative voters don't mobilize, the goal of the Republicans will have to be to keep progressive voters away from the polls in equal numbers.
So, get ready for a really bloody, nasty election season. They are already working hard to distract and divide us -- witness the "flap" around the national anthem in Spanish. We musn't fall for it. Our job is to find infrequent environmental voters -- ones who voted in 2004 but didn't vote in 2002 -- and get them excited about the opportunity to bring a new spirit to Washington, and with it, new environmental leadership. These voters are all over America, in every state and district. We just have to find them, and talk to them -- better yet, listen to them, find the key to their hearts, and tell them the Earth needs their vote.