Kathryn Lopez

In between recent meetings on Capitol Hill, a candidate and his campaign manager were talking about John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. "It's all there," in the declaration, the candidate said, looking up from inside his cab to see they were passing the National Archives. He believes every policy debate on the Hill comes down to the same principles of freedom declared in 1776. The 52-year-old conservative Republican candidate for Congress was as excited by the moment as a well-studied schoolboy, and the prospect of going to Washington in November to fight for the freedoms in that document have him "optimistic" about the future of our country. Even in a Pelosi-Reid Congress.

Too good to be true? I don't blame you for being skeptical. But as a sometimes-DC-er who still gets a thrill stepping off Amtrak and seeing the Capitol building, I'm buying. Tom McClintock, after all, is no political neophyte. He's no Pollyanna. How can he be? He's a conservative Republican serving in the California legislature and a budget-balancing thorn in a liberal Republican's side. Now, as it happens, McClintock's district is more McClintock than it is California; as National Journal has put it, the Mother Lode section of one of his counties (one of the fastest-growing in the state), "In 2004 ... cast 370,000 votes and voted 61 percent for George W. Bush -- a percentage closer to Idaho's than California's. The culture here could not be more different than what prevails less than 50 miles away in the Bay Area."

For this reason, the Republican primary in McClintock's 4th Congressional District in May was able to be a bellwether for Republicans. Contesting for the retiring Congressman John Doolittle's seat, McClintock was a little bit John McCain, pounding away at bad congressional spending and earmarks, and a whole lot of back-to-basics conservatism.

McClintock last garnered national attention when he ran for governor during the 2003 recall election as the conservative in the race. Conservative concerns about Schwarzenegger have proven well-placed, though McClintock sees the recall itself, and some of the initial Arnold reforms, as a step in the right (and Right) direction. McClintock predicts that if running the right way -- as a government-should-not-be-burdensome candidate -- continues, a pro-life candidate could win statewide in the Golden State before long. "When you scratch the surface," McClintock said in a recent interview with National Review, "California is still Reagan country."

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.