A Republican Challenges Rep. Tom McClintock -- From the Left
Rep. Tom McClintock, left, during a House hearing last year on the federal government's debt limit. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
It’s a Saturday night in Amador County, and the local farm bureau is raffling off prizes after its annual dinner. The mood is a little lighter than earlier in the evening, when Rep. Tom McClintock entertained the crowd with a dense, 20-minute assault on federal environmental laws.
“Here’s the blunt truth of the matter,” McClintock told the crowd. “Droughts are nature’s fault. They happen. But water shortages are our fault.”
McClintock, a Republican, has held either state or federal office for nearly three decades, and he’s as conservative as they come. He’s proud to rattle off all the groups that are endorsing his re-election.
“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, are all endorsing me precisely because of my work to improve the economy,” McClintock says.
Of course, conservative groups like the ones McClintock mentioned base their endorsements on an official's voting record. And that, says challenger Art Moore, is precisely the problem. McClintock’s been in office too long.
The first-time candidate, also a Republican, talks like a tea partier.
“You know I don’t think the Founding Fathers intended for this idea of a career politician,” he says, appearing at a candidate forum at Sierra College in Placer County.
But in a twist from the typical tea party challenge -- or the typical same-party challenge, for that matter -- the Republican candidate is attacking McClintock from the left, not the right. Moore says the incumbent is too rigid, too partisan and too unwilling to work with Democrats.
2013 Shutdown Still Lingers
Moore argued that McClintock and other House Republicans should have never pushed to shut down the federal government last year in an attempt to delay Obamacare.
“Our congressman represents a district that’s 70 percent federal lands,” he says, “and decided it would be a good idea to spearhead a government shutdown. That is an approach that has terrible second- and third-order effects that we saw last summer. It’s shortsighted. It’s not putting the country first."
Last October’s shutdown still lingers in the 4th Congressional District, which stretches from Lake Tahoe past Yosemite. The shutdown crippled tourism, which was already suffering because of the Rim Fire.
McClintock was among the first to push Republicans to threaten a government shutdown unless Obamacare was delayed. But when asked if that was a mistake, he shifts blame to Democrats.
“Again, what we had not calculated on was how irresponsible the Senate would be,” he says. “Just to sit there and not amend the bill and send it back so that we could begin the process of negotiation.”
As to whether he’s too partisan, McClintock points out President Obama signed one of his bills into law this year -- though it was a relatively small bill, transferring land to a local Indian tribe.
Still, voters in this conservative congressional district may not want much bipartisanship.
“I’ve got a perfect answer for that,” says Amador County Supervisor Brian Oneto before listening to McClintock’s farm bureau speech. “Because people always say, 'Oh you should compromise. You should compromise.' I say, 'I want a million bucks. How much are you going to give me?' ”
Oneto says less is more when it comes to striking deals with Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “If the compromise makes sense, that’s fine. But if something is not right, you should never compromise.”
The 4th Congressional District is a Republican-versus-Republican fight, one of more than 20 same-party races across the state. McClintock says California’s top-two system deprives voters of the chance to support a Democrat or third-party candidate.
“All of that’s been thrown out the window. People are beginning to realize they have very restricted choices. And I think that’s been reflected in a dramatic drop in voter turnout,” he said.
Art Moore, as you can imagine, loves the fact that he can compete against the incumbent in the fall, rather than in a lower-profile primary. It’s a conservative district, but more than half of its voters aren’t Republicans.
Moore hopes his bipartisan message will register. But he’s got limited resources to get that message out in time.