Kathryn Lopez

Why go to Washington then? Why not keep running statewide? Because McClintock believes that Washington needs an infusion of people who remember principles first. People who believe, as he does, that the Reagan Revolution was not an end, but, as he puts it, a "pre-revolution." John Doolittle went to Congress as part of the 1994 Gingrich Revolution. And he's leaving Congress under taint of family involvement with Jack Abramoff, and walking away from his tenure on the powerful House Appropriations Committee having declared that the committee has been a much more harmonious place to be than he would have expected. He's told the Wall Street Journal's John Fund: "It's because we so often have the same priorities." Spending. Bringing home the bacon... Their congressman, he argues, went to Washington for one reason and became part of a corrupt culture there. It's a frustration McClintock hears a lot.

For McClintock, it's about not being corrupted by power but remembering that limited government works. Campaigning around his district in a race against Democrat Charlie Brown, McClintock says the issues that resonate most with his constituents are securing the borders, spending and reducing the burdens of government. When a colleague of mine comments that his "leave us alone" talk is making her nostalgic for the Reagan era, McClintock's campaign manager, John Feliz, notes, the plan is to go "back to the future."

A Fred Thompson supporter in the primaries, McClintock points out that McCain wasn't his first choice. "He wasn't my second choice either. Or my third. Or my fourth. Or my fifth. Or my sixth. Or my seventh." Still, he says, "for those who believe in the principle of free government," he claims, "earmarks resonate."

The issue that doesn't resonate in his race is the war on terror, and it's a reminder of challenges ahead for both "No Surrender" McCain, who some have recently argued, should run on his commitment to not prematurely withdraw from Iraq. In a country where 3,000 people were murdered this decade on our own soil, California doesn't feel like it's at war. Without being self-consciously anti-Bush, part of the reason, McClintock argues, is we never formally declared war. A big part of the reason is a failed "call to action." In the immediate days after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, McClintock remembers, Americans were galvanized. We were ready for marching orders. "We were told to go shopping," to support the economy. That, he says, was "not exactly Churchillian."

Having spent over an hour with him recently, McClintock sounds like a conservative making his way with basic, tried-and-true principles, in a conservative movement with no clear leader. A former fellow at the Claremont Institute, a conservative California think tank, McClintock is not down about current conservative doldrums. (McCain was the eighth choice of more than McClintock.) These things, he says, go in cycles.

"Republican voters have not abandoned conservative principles but are concerned that their leaders have." He adds, "If you don't stand for anything, don't be surprised if nobody votes for you." And so he stood, and beat his main competition, former Congressman Doug Ose, in the May primary with 54 percent of the vote. And so he stands, one of the potential leaders of the conservative comeback. If not in a big way this fall, it will come, McClintock is certain. Freedom

-- limited government, pushbacks against government attacks on religion and speech and marriage -- will ring.

Kathryn Lopez

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