CAMPAIGN 2010:

Former House Resources Chairman Pombo to attempt comeback

One-time House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R) will attempt a political comeback, running again for a California congressional seat, though not the one that he represented for more than a decade.

Instead, Pombo is scheduled to announce today that he will run for the seat left vacant by the retirement of Republican George Radanovich. Radanovich's San Joaquin Valley-based 19th District lies directly east of the 11th District, which Pombo represented for seven terms before losing the 2006 election to Democrat Jerry McNerney.

"I do miss the policy issues," Pombo said in an interview with the Stockton Record. "A lot of the things that I worked on while I was there are very similar."

Pombo also said he sees the major issues in the neighboring districts as identical and that he already has experience dealing with them. "It's all California water issues," he said. "They are very complicated, but it's all the same issues I've dealt with for years."

At the time of his defeat, Pombo had served four years as the chairman of the Resources Committee, where he made several attempts to rewrite the Endangered Species Act and loosen other environmental regulations. House Democrats changed the name of the committee after Pombo's departure, restoring "natural" to the title, which was shortened after Republicans took control of Congress in 1995 (E&ENews PM, Jan. 3, 2007).

Pombo's efforts to curb environmental regulations made him a target for environmentalists, who spent millions of dollars on a campaign to oust him.

It was environmental groups that funded and ran the early stages of the 2006 campaign against Pombo. McNerney, who was a political novice, prevailed by about 6 percentage points, allowing environmentalists to proclaim it one of their most important Election Day wins in decades.

The director of Defenders of Wildlife's political arm, which led the fight to oust Pombo in 2006, said his group is ready for a rematch.

"Most of the environmental groups would want to protect their investment, as would we," said William Lutz, senior director of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.

The group spent nearly $2 million on the race in 2006 and put staff on the ground, waging a fight long before Democratic Party campaign officials targeted the race.

Lutz said his group has not decided on strategy, such as how much to raise or spend on the race. And it has not decided whether to target Pombo in the primary, in which he expects other candidates to be as conservative as Pombo, or the general election.

"Right now, we're looking at the Republican primary," Lutz said. Though the district is considered strongly Republican, he said that is what Defenders was told about Pombo's seat in 2006.

"We're being told, 'It's a conservative district,' 'You'll never defeat a Republican,'" Lutz said. "But we would plan to devote significant resources to this race."

The 2006 campaign against Pombo, however, was fueled less by his environmental positions and more by a number of ethical questions, including his link to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff. And even ahead of Pombo's announcement, Democratic officials in Washington have already sent e-mails with reminders of the accusations lobbed at Pombo during his time on Capitol Hill.

Pombo has historically been a strong fundraiser and figures to be capable of raising the kind of money needed to run a viable campaign. Still, Pombo's path to the GOP nomination is far from certain, as two other Republican candidates -- state Sen. Jeff Denham and former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson -- have already entered the fray and a couple of others are also considering bids.

Radanovich has already endorsed Denham, and the state lawmaker is viewed as the favorite of Republican strategists in Washington. He is the only one of the three announced candidates who actually lives in the district.

Under California law, a congressional candidate must only live in the state and not in the district where he is running. Still, being an outsider to the district means that Pombo will have to introduce himself to a new bloc of voters; he has never represented any part of Radanovich's 19th District.

The district favors Republicans -- Sen. John McCain of Arizona carried it by 6 percentage points in the 2008 presidential election even as then-Sen. Barack Obama won the state in a landslide. The two announced Democratic candidates in the race are physician and attorney Loraine Goodwin and retired actor Les Marsden.

Since leaving Congress, Pombo has worked for the Oregon-based public relations firm Pac/West Communications, which has worked to ease logging restrictions and at one time backed Pombo's efforts to overhaul the Endangered Species Act.

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