Republicans in Rep. John Doolittle’s (R-Calif.) district are continuing to sour on the nine-term Congressman — but GOP leaders and potential primary challengers are for now refraining from making any public moves to push the lawmaker aside.
Reflecting his weakened political position, Doolittle closed the second-quarter fundraising period with significantly less cash on hand than likely 2008 Democratic nominee Charlie Brown — despite the fact that the northern California 4th district is one of the most Republican in the country.
Republican operatives familiar with the district and based in California say things have gotten so bad for Doolittle that private polling they’ve seen shows the Congressman would lose to Brown if the election were held today. Credible Republicans concerned that the Democrats might flip this seat are considering challenging Doolittle in the primary if he doesn’t retire, although none is expected to make a move before Labor Day.
“If John Doolittle is the nominee of the Republican Party there is an overwhelming likelihood that this conservative district will elect a very liberal Democrat,” said Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who currently is a 4th district resident.
Doolittle’s office did not respond to requests this week to be interviewed for this story.
Doolittle — who garnered 49 percent of the vote in 2006 as he beat Brown by just 3 points — raised $100,183 in the second quarter to close the period with a paltry $74,383 on hand. Brown outraised Doolittle nearly 2-1, bringing in $193,239 while banking $268,574.
The 4th district supported President Bush over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 White House election by a 24-point margin.
Republicans in Washington, D.C., are none too eager to repeat in 2008 what they went through in 2006, when they lost several Republican-leaning seats under the weight of various scandals. Doolittle’s political troubles were exacerbated in April when the FBI raided his Oakton, Va., home as part of its ongoing investigation into ties he and his wife, Julie, had to disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Absent Doolittle getting indicted, there is little Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are likely to say or do to change the political dynamic in his Sacramento-area district. But a Republican operative based in Washington said House GOP leaders are quietly hoping the matter resolves itself, either legally in the form of an indictment or an exoneration — or politically in the form of Doolittle being ousted in a Republican primary.
“I think a whole bunch of Members may line up against him in terms of where they throw their money [in a primary],” the GOP operative said. “Republicans do not want to go through what we went through last cycle.”
Doolittle’s problems began when it was revealed in the previous cycle that the Justice Department might be looking into possible ties between the Doolittles and Abramoff.
They continued when it was learned that Doolittle was ostensibly enriching himself by employing his wife as his fundraiser. The Congressman has continued this legal practice, reporting $40,905 paid to Julie Doolittle’s firm, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions, on his latest Federal Election Commission report.
More than a few Republicans are known to be eying Doolittle’s seat — with some of them strongly considering challenging the Congressman in the primary if he runs for re-election. Among them are state Assemblyman Ted Gaines (R); Auburn City Councilman and 2006 GOP primary candidate Mike Holmes; former state Sen. Rico Oller (R); talk-show host Tom Sullivan (R); and Air Force Reservist Eric Egland, who last year cut a television ad for Doolittle as it became clear that his re-election was in jeopardy.
Although not as strong as it once was, Doolittle still maintains a base of support in the 4th district. Because of this, Republican operatives based in Northern California say Doolittle’s potential primary challengers would prefer to hold off on entering the race until it becomes abundantly clear that his political career is finished.
Some Republicans say an indictment would serve as such a signal, although there is no indication that one is forthcoming. Additional GOP sources say there definitely will be a competitive primary campaign in the 4th district next year — with or without Doolittle — explaining that California’s March filing deadline and June primary means there’s no need for any candidate to rush into the race this early.
Egland, who served in combat zones in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is seriously considering challenging Doolittle in the primary next year and expects to make a decision later this year.
“I think average voters of both parties are walking away from Doolittle,” Egland said. “I’ve been encouraged to do this from all levels of the Republican Party hierarchy.”
Egland said that “hierarchy” includes GOP officials at both the state and federal level, although he declined to provide further detail.
Schmidt, who guided California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to re-election in 2006 and is a former political hand in the White House and at the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Doolittle’s problems are fourfold: his legal and ethical issues; federal spending deemed excessive; recent statements he has made suggesting his support for the Iraq War is waning; and worries from GOP stalwarts that he cannot win the general election.
Despite Doolittle’s ongoing political difficulty, there is speculation that several factors could motivate him to work hard to hang on to his post. Among them is the fact that it is easier for sitting Members of Congress to raise money for legal defense funds.
Additionally, Doolittle will be eligible for his Congressional retirement pension if he serves for a full 10th term to bring his total tenure in the House to 20 years.
“For the moment he’s been talking himself into believing that he can run again because there’s been no indictment and no one serious has said they’ll run against him,” said one GOP operative based in Northern California.