Air Force reservist announces challenge to Rep. Doolittle for congressional seat |

Air Force reservist announces challenge to Rep. Doolittle for congressional seat

Staff and wire reports

SACRAMENTO — An Air Force reservist who has never previously sought political office announced his candidacy against GOP Rep. John Doolittle, the nine-term incumbent under investigation in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal.

Eric Egland, 37, a former Doolittle supporter, said he will provide ethical leadership and firsthand experience in national security issues, and has strong interest in local issues.

“Change is needed, here and in Washington,” Egland, a security consultant who started a veterans support group, said in a statement.

Auburn City Councilman Mike Holmes, who lost to Doolittle in last year’s Republican primary, has said he is considering a rematch, but Egland is the first to formally declare his candidacy. He plans to file with the Federal Election Commission this week.

Doolittle consultant Richard Temple said the Rocklin congressman retains a strong base of support and multiple contenders will only divide those voters who don’t support him.

“In this case, the more candidates the better,” said Temple. “Neither of them can beat him.”

While El Dorado County remains firmly Republican with the exception of a pocket of Lake Tahoe, it was Republican turned Democrat Charlie Brown, a retired 26-year career Air Force lieutenant colonel, who gave Doolittle a close run in last November’s election. Brown lost to Doolittle by 3 percent, a margin no Democrat had matched in recent history for the district.

Brown, whose son has done four rotations in Iraq, intends to run again for the congressional seat and welcomes Egland to the race.

“As a combat veteran, Charlie Brown understands that national security is the most important issue facing voters in the next election, said Brown spokesman Todd Stenhouse. “That’s why he’s released a detailed, comprehensive national security plan, why he encourages fellow veterans to make their voices heard, and why he welcomes anyone willing to contribute to this important debate.”

Still, GOP stalwarts in El Dorado County say they are not wavering to Egland or any other Republican for that matter, and are firmly committed to Doolittle.

“We are 100 percent behind John Doolittle’s effort for re-election and it is one of our top priorities in 2008,” said El Dorado County GOP party chair John Stelzmiller. “His opponents are misguided in their efforts to smear the reputation of our congressman.”

Questions about Doolittle’s ties to Abramoff, who is in jail and cooperating with prosecutors, cost Doolittle support in last year’s election as he beat Democrat Charlie Brown with just 49 percent of the vote. Brown plans to run again.

Pressure on Doolittle has increased since the FBI raided his Virginia home in April looking for information on his wife’s bookkeeping business, which had done work for Abramoff.

The chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the political arm of the House GOP, told reporters on a conference call Monday that he was confident Doolittle’s seat would stay in Republican hands.

“It’s probably the most Republican seat in California, so we will wait and see how the situation with John resolves itself,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “I think he will make his decision accordingly, and so will the people there.”

“But it sure would be helpful to him and to us if a three-year-old investigation was brought to a conclusion one way or the other,” Cole said.

Apart from Egland and Holmes, other local Republicans have indicated they might jump into the race if Doolittle decides not to run for re-election. Doolittle, who denies any wrongdoing, says he plans to run again.

In a press statement released Tuesday, Doolittle said he enjoys support across the board.

“Local Republicans are committed to my re-election in 2008. The outpouring of support — endorsements, volunteer efforts and financial contributions — is very encouraging,” Doolittle said in the statement.

— Tribune city editor Jeff Munson and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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