Who’s the most right? Ose, McClintock clash over their GOP primary credentials
WASHINGTON ” The campaign for the GOP nomination to replace retiring Republican Congressman John Doolittle is a classic showdown between the conservative and liberal wings of the Republican Party.
At least that’s how the self-proclaimed conservative in the race, state Sen. Tom McClintock, wants the contest depicted.
“Will we return to the days of Ronald Reagan, when Republicans acted like Republicans? Or will we slowly morph into a second-rate reflection of the Democrats?” McClintock, who represents Ventura County in Southern California, demanded to know at a recent forum with his lead rival, former Congressman Doug Ose of Sacramento.
Ose is more moderate on issues such as abortion and the role of government, and his approach is more laid-back than that of McClintock, known in the state Legislature for oratory that often borders on the indignant. Ose is trying to convince voters in the 4th Congressional District that they have an entirely different decision to make.
“You’ll need to make a choice between somebody who makes stuff happen, who was born and raised in this area, and someone who has spent 22 years representing Southern California,” Ose said during the forum in a Sacramento suburb. “(It’s) a choice between a businessman who believes he can serve his country and someone who’s built a career out of running for office.”
Whichever vision of the race prevails could determine the outcome of the June 3 GOP primary in the immense district, which stretches from Sacramento north to Oregon and east to Nevada, including Truckee and the Tahoe Basin.
Campaigning is heaviest in the district’s population center, the upper middle class suburbs immediately east of the state capital.
It’s California’s most fiercely contested primary race, and the winner will be the favorite to prevail in November over presumptive Democratic nominee Charlie Brown. Republicans outnumber Democrats 47 percent to 31 percent among district voters.
“McClintock’s whole strategy has been to make this a typical Republican primary with a conservative and a non-conservative battling it out, and in those cases conservatives usually win,” said Dave Gilliard, a local GOP strategist. “Ose’s strategy has been to paint McClintock as an outsider and try to be a local boy.”
Neither candidate lives within the boundaries of the 4th Congressional District, although McClintock’s claim to it is the bigger stretch.
Ose lives in Sacramento, just outside the district’s borders, but has rented a guest house at a home in Granite Bay, an affluent suburb east of the capital.
McClintock lives year-round in Elk Grove, a suburb south of Sacramento, even though his state Senate district is in Ventura County, roughly 400 miles south.
He claims the Thousand Oaks home where his mother lives as his legal residence because serving in the state Senate requires him to maintain a residence in his Southern California district.
The question of who lives where has taken center stage in the race. Ose, who is personally wealthy, has spent more than $800,000 of his own money to paint McClintock as a carpetbagger shopping for a district because term limits are forcing him from the state Senate.
Ose also questions McClintock’s acceptance of a tax-free per diem meant for state legislators who live far from Sacramento, even though McClintock lives year-round within a quick commute of the capital.
In 2007, McClintock took in $36,319 in per diem payments, on top of his lawmaker’s salary of $116,000.
“McClintock has been supping at the public trough since he got out of college. That’s not the conservative way,” Ose said in an interview.
McClintock said his acceptance of the per diem pay is legal and accused Ose of trying to buy his way into Congress. He also defended his own political career, which began when he won a state Assembly seat in 1982, when he was 26.
“I’ve dedicated my life to reducing the size and the burdens and the costs of government. I make no apologies for that,” McClintock said in an interview.
House members make $169,300. During his stint in Congress, Ose accepted the salary but refused the increases regularly approved by lawmakers, donating the difference to charity. He would take the same approach if returned to Congress, spokesman Doug Elmets said.
There also are two lesser-known Republican candidates in the race, Suzanne Jones and Theodore Terbolizard.
Open congressional seats are so rare in California that a fierce contest took shape from the moment Doolittle announced his retirement in January.
Doolittle, who is under federal investigation in a lobbying scandal, came close to losing to Brown in 2006. Fellow Republicans feared he would not survive again.
The race drew interest from a number of locally known Republicans. But when McClintock announced his candidacy in March, all but Ose cleared out. Local voters have been barraged by mailers and TV and radio ads ever since.
McClintock, 51, is a conservative standard-bearer known for his staunch opposition to tax or spending increases. He has high name recognition from a series of statewide campaigns ” all failed ” that include a run for Congress in 1992, two attempts at state controller and, in 2006, for lieutenant governor.
He gained a platform during the 2003 gubernatorial recall won by Arnold Schwarzenegger, coming across as a frugal straight-arrow during debates. He finished third.
He has been in the state Senate since 2000 and will be termed out at the end of the year.
Ose, 52, represented the neighboring 3rd Congressional District for three terms until retiring in 2003 on a term-limits pledge.
He is a partner with his family’s Sacramento real estate development firm. In 2006, his net taxable income was $1.1 million, according to his campaign.
Ose said his business background would help him solve the country’s economic woes. In Congress, he was a leader in the Main Street Partnership, a moderate Republican group, and he supported programs such as adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare and the No Child Left Behind law ” two of President Bush’s key domestic initiatives. McClintock opposes both.
McClintock is an opponent of earmarks, the pork-barrel projects lawmakers direct to their districts. Unlike Doolittle, he said he will not seek any for the 4th district. Ose said he will fight to get money for needed local projects.
Almost absent from the campaign has been the man who has loomed large over local politics for so long ” Rep. John Doolittle himself.
He has kept a low profile and has not endorsed since announcing in January that he will retire at the end of this year rather than seek a 10th term in Congress.
His ethical problems also have remained below the surface in the primary.
Asked about Doolittle, Ose described him respectfully as a friend who leaves “big shoes to fill.” McClintock declined to offer any assessment, insisting that “I’m running on my own record.”