Cheney stumps in California to boost GOP campaigns |

Cheney stumps in California to boost GOP campaigns

Steve Yeater / The Associated Press / Vice President Dick Cheney, left, speaks during a re-election fundraiser for Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, right, in Stockton on Monday.

STOCKTON (AP) – Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday campaigned for two veteran California GOP congressman who find themselves facing unexpected primary challenges as Republicans are seeking to hold onto their majorities in Congress.

Cheney spoke at a private luncheon in Sacramento for Rep. John Doolittle of Roseville and during a fundraising dinner in Stockton for Rep. Richard Pombo of Tracy.

Pombo, an eight-term congressman, faces the more serious challenge in the June 6 primary election. Pete McCloskey, a 78-year-old war hero and former congressman, has challenged Pombo on his environmental record and by tapping into voter unrest.

A moderate, he has cast Pombo as complicit in the Bush administration’s deficit spending and abandoning of other core Republican values.

Cheney defended Pombo before about 200 guests at Stockton’s Bob Hope Theatre.

“Your congressman is part of a team that has gotten the economy rolling again and has protected the nation in a time of danger. … He has earned another term in the House of Representatives,” the vice president said.

He called the midterm election a referendum on the Republicans’ and Democrats’ views on fighting the war on terror. As he has in the past, Cheney said he welcomed that debate.

“There’s a reason we have not been hit again,” he said.

The guests paid from $500 per person up to $2,100 for a couple to have a picture taken with Cheney, said Carl Fogliani, Pombo’s campaign manager. He said Monday’s event raised more than $200,000 for Pombo’s campaign.

Pombo, who chairs the House Resources Committee, also has seen his re-election hopes complicated by a nationally coordinated attack from environmental groups, who have run an advertising campaign in his district, which stretches from the Central Valley farming region to eastern San Francisco Bay area suburbs.

The ads have focused on Pombo’s support of some coastal oil exploration and weakening of endangered species laws.

“To bring out the big guns, he must feel McCloskey is getting close,” Robert Caughlan, McCloskey’s campaign spokesman, said before the Pombo fundraiser began.

McCloskey’s red, white and blue campaign bus was parked outside the barricades near the theater. About 40 supporters clustered around it, some carrying signs saying “Pombo No More” and “No War With Iran.”

Pombo’s 11th Congressional District includes most of San Joaquin County, but also stretches into several Bay area counties, including Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara.

“I’m not a fan of Mr. Pombo’s for a lot of reasons,” said Pat Rieta-Garcia, a Democrat and resident of nearby Lodi, who was drinking coffee near where police had cordoned off an area for protesters. “For me, though, bringing Cheney here just sways me further in the other direction.”

Richard Solarz, a physicist from the upscale Bay area suburb of Danville, gave $500 to attend the Pombo fundraiser.

Pombo, he said, is approachable and plainspoken. He also supports him because of his seniority in Congress.

“People don’t realize how important that is,” he said.

Regarding Cheney’s visit, he said it good to see the senior members of the party supporting him.”

Engineer Jerry McNerney and airline pilot Steve Filson are competing in the district’s Democrat primary.

Cheney’s Stockton stop continued a tour designed to boost the campaigns of Pombo, Doolittle and Brian Bilbray, the Republican candidate running in a special election runoff against Democrat Francine Busby in San Diego. Both are trying to fill the remaining seven months in the term of Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who resigned amid an ethics scandal.

Cheney and his wife, Lynne, also attended the luncheon in downtown Sacramento for Doolittle, who is facing an unexpected re-election challenge for his ninth term. He has faced criticism over his association with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to federal charges stemming from an investigation into influence-peddling.

Doolittle, who represents a suburban Sacramento district, has denied any wrongdoing.

Across the street from the downtown hotel where the Doolittle event was held, about 100 protesters marched with signs, tambourines and drums to criticize the Bush administration. The group was led by the California Nurses Association, which was promoting its initiative for the November ballot that would create a voluntary system of public campaign financing.

“I am a grandmother for peace and anything else,” said Sue Erlich, 67. “I just had to come down. I’m just disgusted with the administration.”

One woman carried a sign that stated, “Doo Doo Do-Little. Your dirty money stinks,” alluding to the private luncheon that was organized by the Doolittle campaign to raise money.

Doolittle faces Auburn Mayor Mike Holmes in the Republican primary. Three challengers are competing on the Democratic side: retired Air Force Lt. Col. Charlie Brown; Lisa Rea, who runs a nonprofit criminal justice organization; and Mike Hamersley, a tax fraud investigator.

On Tuesday, Cheney is scheduled to headline a $2,100-a-plate fundraiser for Bilbray in San Diego.

Cunningham resigned last November amid a growing corruption and bribery scandal. He pleaded guilty to accepting more than $2.4 million in bribes from a defense contractor and was sentenced in March to eight years in federal prison.

Associated Press Writer Laura Kurtzman in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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