Politics & Government

GOP candidates for House seat scour Washington for campaign help

WASHINGTON — Republican state Sen. Jeff Denham of Merced built a million-dollar state campaign war chest, but he can't directly tap it as he runs for Congress.

So Denham, like his GOP competitors, must scramble anew for the seat now held by Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa. The money chase helped bring three leading San Joaquin Valley contenders to Washington, where campaign cash is one bottom line.

"I plan on raising and spending two million dollars," Denham said Wednesday after arriving on the overnight red-eye flight. "I will raise the money, and I will have the grassroots support."

Denham said he already has raised more than $300,000 for the House race, and he has eight upcoming Valley fundraising events planned. He touts himself as "one of the best fundraisers in the California Legislature" in campaign materials circulating among the people who pay attention to such things.

"We will have more than enough money to get our message out," Denham said.

This week, Denham and former Fresno mayor Jim Patterson are both working the Capitol Hill angles. Both are meeting with political professionals and conservative groups like the influential Club for Growth, which has not yet endorsed anyone.

Denham's schedule exemplified the gauntlet of job interviews candidates must run.

Officials with the anti-tax Club for Growth wanted to know his, and Patterson's, policy positions. National Rifle Association executives arranged a casual "meet and greet." Closely watched political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg sized up Denham, while the National Republican Congressional Committee did the same.

Last week, it was former Tracy area congressman Richard Pombo's turn to woo Washington. It was familiar turf for Pombo, who represented portions of the Northern San Joaquin Valley between 1993 and his defeat in 2006.

Denham, Patterson and Pombo, along with Fresno City Councilman Larry Westerlund, all want the Republican nomination in the 19th Congressional District. The June primary election is tantamount to final victory in November, as Republicans command a 44-37 percent voter registration advantage over Democrats.

Radanovich backs Denham, as do five other members of the California congressional delegation and a number of the Valley's mayors and city council members. Pombo is backed by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, and two other House members from California, among others.

Pombo and Denham have both been furiously fundraising. Pombo held three events in Washington last week and another on Monday, hosted by Fresno businessman Robert Smittcamp. The Smittcamp event alone raised about $250,000, according to the Pombo campaign.

"It was packed," Nunes said.

Denham's campaign materials, in turn, observe that he has "over $1 million cash-on-hand in his campaign accounts." This money is left over from state Senate and lieutenant governor races. Federal law prohibits state campaign funds from being transferred to federal campaigns.

Denham noted, though, that he can offer refunds to the state-level contributors, who then might turn around and contribute to his congressional campaign.

Politically, Denham and Pombo track closely on many issues. Both denounce taxes, back farmers and demand more reliable water supplies. Denham, though, said he would not ask for local funding in earmarks, which Pombo did throughout his congressional career.

The two men could also clash over the San Joaquin River. Denham criticizes Pombo for co-sponsoring a San Joaquin River restoration bill in 2006, in the final weeks of Pombo's congressional career. The chief author of that bill, though, was Denham's chief congressional patron, Radanovich.

Pombo says he would not have voted for the bill he co-sponsored, nor let it out of the House Resources Committee he chaired, once farmer opposition began to split the Valley's congressional delegation.