05/24/2006 02:27 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why Cheney's Hunting Bucks for Pombo

Dick Cheney is making a campaign swing through California to help Republican congressional candidates in contested districts. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about this is that the Republican Congressional candidates think he can help them -- his own personal popularity is mired at 20 percent. But wait -- there weren't supposed to be any contested districts in California. The state has been so thoroughly gerrymandered that in the last election no one in either party won with less than 55 percent of the vote.

So why is Cheney stopping in Stockton to raise $100,000 for House Resources Chair Richard Pombo, a congressman so previously entrenched in his district that he used about a quarter of his campaign contributions to pay his own family?

And what is Pombo doing with the money -- saving it, like most endangered Congressmen would, for the fall? No, Pombo, who previously dismissed his primary challenge from Pete McCloskey as a farce, is (according to the local press) "burning through his stash .... pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into broadcast television and radio ads, as well as a series of mailed fliers." Hundreds of thousands of dollars in a primary?

The next district Cheney dipped into is equally implausible. John Doolittle of Rocklin was even more firmly entrenched than Pombo -- but that was before he became enmeshed in the Jack Abramoff scandal. Now Doolittle, too, faces a real primary challenge, and he's worried enough that Cheney took time off to buck up Doolittle's hold on the seat.

The third district Cheney visited, in San Diego, is wilder yet. It was held by disgraced and imprisoned Randy "Duke" Cunningham. It is so overwhelmingly Republican (44 percent Republican to 30 percent Democratic) that, when Cunningham resigned, pundits kept it in the Republican column. The GOP's candidate, former Congressman Brian Bilbray, seemed formidable. But Bilbray is actually trailing his Democratic challenger, Francine Busby, 47 percent to 40 percent. It seems there are significant questions about where Bilbray actually lives, and he seems to have simultaneously claimed several states as his home, so that he could run for Congress in California but qualify for in-state tuition for his children in Virginia. So Cheney had to make a stop to help Bilbray.

Of the sixty Congressional races Cheney has targeted, then, THREE are in what were viewed as entirely safe California Republican seats. If these three are in trouble, then Cheney's party is in big trouble nationally. And while Cheney can still raise money, his visits come with a price. His stop for Pombo, for example, resulted in the Stockton Record reminding voters that "Eleven cents of every dollar Pombo, R-Tracy, has collected for his re-election campaign has come from the oil and energy industry, a Record analysis has found. That's more than $212,000, and more is expected when a new set of federal campaign-finance reports becomes public this week. Pombo's campaign featured his efforts to increase oil shale production on the invitation to a fund-raiser headlined by Vice President Dick Cheney scheduled for today; Cheney's former employer, Halliburton Co., is one of the world's leading energy-services corporations." That's expensive money Pombo is raising -- especially to spend in his primary.

And on the same day that the Stockton Record reported that Pombo had received $212,000 from oil and energy interests during the current election cycle, Pombo actually got yet another $2,000 check from the Shell Oil Employees PAC.