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Conservative Hero McClintock Testing the Waters in Two California Districts

Although it now appears likely that California state Sen. Tom McClintock (R) will run for Congress in the Golden State’s 4th district, he has yet to completely rule out a primary challenge of Rep. Elton Gallegly (R) in the 24th district, according to a Republican insider familiar with McClintock’s plans.

McClintock would beat Gallegly in such a primary, this California-based GOP insider said, citing knowledge of a poll of 24th district GOP voters that McClintock’s team conducted to assess his chances against the Congressman. Meanwhile, McClintock, a hero to California conservatives who made a strong showing in the 2003 gubernatorial recall election, currently is in the field with a poll in the 4th district to determine his chances there.

“Tom has been looking at the 24th for some time, and he had also done a survey which showed he could take the seat in a primary,” the GOP insider said, although he added: “I think in the end he would probably go for the 4th.”

Geographically, Gallegly’s 24th district would be the more logical place for McClintock to run, considering it is in the same region as McClintock’s legislative district.

But McClintock and his wife and children have lived full time in the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove for several years — in the 3rd district represented by Rep. Dan Lungren (R) — so that running for Congress in the 24th district would require a bigger uprooting of his family than running in the the nearby 4th district would.

Being able to challenge for an open seat — Rep. John Doolittle (R) is retiring in the 4th district — rather than attempting to oust an incumbent Republican with a deep war chest is also a consideration. Gallegly closed 2007 with $810,873 on hand and insists he is running for re-election this year, although he announced he was retiring in 2006 only to be talked out of doing so at the last minute by GOP leaders.

On Tuesday, McClintock acknowledged to The Sacramento Bee that he is in fact considering running in the 4th district.

“I’ll have more to say about this in the future. But at the moment, I’m simply listening to people in the district,” McClintock said.

McClintock’s entry into the 4th district race could shake up the field and put a wrench into the plans of the GOP candidates who already have declared for this contest: national security consultant Eric Egland, former state Sen. Rico Oller and ex-Rep. Doug Ose.

Egland, whose chances in the June 3 primary were slim, on Tuesday announced that he would drop out of the race and back McClintock if the Senator decided to make the race. Former police administrator and military veteran Charlie Brown, who is running for the Democrats, came close to upending Doolittle in 2006 but is expected to be less of a factor this year without the scandal-plagued Congressman to run against.

Although McClintock isn’t from the district and could potentially be tarred with the “carpetbagger” label, neither are Oller and Ose, both of whom have ties to the 3rd district. Ose held the 3rd district seat for six years before retiring in 2004, and Oller lost to Lungren in the 2004 GOP primary in his bid to replace Ose.

Perhaps more importantly, McClintock has exceedingly high name identification and favorability ratings throughout the state. He ran for governor in the 2003 recall contest and challenged for statewide office on two other occasions, coming within a few points of winning the 2002 race for state controller.

McClintock might be the most beloved figure among conservative Republicans in California, and the 4th district is solid GOP territory. A recent poll conducted by Moore Information for Constitutional Advocates, a group affiliated with conservative activist Ted Costa, showed the state Senator well in front of both Oller and Ose in a hypothetical 4th district GOP primary.

In that poll, McClintock led the field with 43 percent. Ose registered 11 percent, and Oller had 6 percent, while 36 percent were undecided. The survey of 300 likely GOP primary voters was conducted Feb. 11-12 and had a margin of error of 6 points.

“He’s still one of the top conservatives, if not the top conservative voice, in California,” said the California-based Republican insider.

McClintock will be termed out of the state Senate at the end of this year. After a ballot initiative to adjust the term limits law failed on Feb. 5, he accelerated his deliberations concerning what he might do next.

McClintock, then a state Assemblyman, ran for Congress in 1992 in the old 24th district, which unlike the current Republican-leaning 24th had a Democratic bent. He won a competitive, nine-way GOP primary but lost handily in the general election to then-Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D).

Recently, McClintock’s deliberations on whether to run for the House have included consideration of the 11th district, where the Republican candidate is Dean Andal, a former state Assemblyman who lost to McClintock in the 2002 GOP primary for state controller.

However, McClintock now appears to be considering just two districts, the 4th and the 24th, with the 4th having the edge.

“He’s weighing his options,” the California-based GOP insider said.