Debra J. Saunders

In 2006, voters in California's 11th Congressional District, which meanders from San Ramon to Stockton, fired Rep. Richard Pombo, once a highly popular congressman first elected in 1992. Pombo got caught up in a wave that cost the GOP 31 seats and its control of the House.

Pombo, however, was especially vulnerable because he had lost touch with his district. He had become a big man in Washington, and it made him arrogant. He apparently didn't care how it looked that his wife and brother worked for his campaign committee. He put his chief of staff on two federal payrolls - in his congressional office and in charge of the House Resources Committee.

While his too-liberal payroll decisions alienated his conservative base inland, Pombo's attempts to rewrite the Endangered Species Act alienated his East Bay constituents. A little-known Democratic challenger named Jerry McNerney beat Pombo with 53 percent of the vote.

"The voters didn't even know who McNerney was," opined Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book and a former GOP consultant. They had just had enough of Pombo.

Pombo decided to run for Congress again this year. But he didn't run in his old district -- once known as "Pombo Country" in light of the many Pombo real estate signs that dotted fields along freeways. This year, Pombo campaigned in the 19th Congressional District, where Republican George Radanovich was retiring. Once again, he lost. Garnering a modest 21 percent of the vote, Pombo came in third place in the June GOP primary.

Republican businessman and attorney David Harmer doesn't mention Pombo's name, but he seems keenly aware of the downfall of Tracy's erstwhile prince. Harmer wants to do to McNerney in 2010 what McNerney did to Pombo four years ago.

"I don't blame the voters for firing the Republican majority" in 2006, Harmer told me last week. The GOP had become too enamored of earmarks and increased federal spending.

After four years of Democrats running Congress and two years of President Obama, he continued, the result has been "a great four-year experiment for Keynesian stimulus" that has driven the national debt above the $13 trillion mark. Voters who wanted change found out they instead got "more of the same."

"A lot of what drove the 2006 wave is driving the 2010 wave," Harmer said.

The son of Ronald Reagan's lieutenant governor could well be right. Last year, Harmer ran in the special election to replace Rep. Ellen Tauscher of the 10th Congressional District. Harmer lost to Democrat John Garamendi.

Debra J. Saunders

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