Doolittle tries to shore up support |

Doolittle tries to shore up support

WASHINGTON (AP) ” Rep. John Doolittle is garnering tepid public support from his California GOP colleagues in the latest sign of his slumping political fortunes as he aims for re-election while under federal criminal investigation.

Doolittle, a nine-term conservative who represents a heavily Republican district in northernmost California, is under scrutiny along with his wife, Julie, for their ties to jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The ethics cloud nearly cost him re-election last year and since then his legal problems have worsened with grand jury subpoenas issued to him and aides and an FBI raid on his home.

In recent weeks Doolittle has sought out fellow Republicans in California’s House delegation for one-on-one discussions aimed at assessing and shoring up his support, according to several lawmakers who met with him. Doolittle, who’s denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime, declined comment.

House Republican leaders are short on campaign funds to shore up weak incumbents and eager to shake off the taint of ethics scandals. They have pointedly passed up chances to endorse Doolittle despite a policy of supporting incumbents.

Backing from his peers is crucial if Doolittle, who is not personally wealthy, is to muster the financial and political resources for an expensive campaign while also paying lawyers’ fees in a criminal investigation.

“The only thing we know for certain is Doolittle is in trouble. The party leadership does not want to spend a huge sum of money to hold onto this seat,” said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican strategist in Los Angeles and publisher of the nonpartisan Target Book that tracks political races. “It’s almost Doolittle versus the world.”

Doolittle has insisted that he intends to run for re-election. Aides said this week that hasn’t changed despite rumors circulating on Republican blogs that he might step aside.

Indeed Doolittle’s resolve has been strengthened by a poll in his district late last month paid for by the House Republican campaign committee that showed him beating potential primary opponents by wide margins and within the margin of error against his likely Democratic challenger, according to a Republican supporter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the poll is not public.

He still has several months to make a final decision. The candidate filing period for California’s June 2008 primary runs from Feb. 11 to March 7, 2008.

In interviews with The Associated Press, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was the only one of Doolittle’s 18 California House GOP colleagues who would go so far as to say he believed Doolittle should run for re-election. Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, was also the only member of Congress to write a leniency letter on Abramoff’s behalf to a sentencing judge last year.

One lawmaker, Rep. John Campbell, R-Irvine, already had said publicly that it would be best if Doolittle got out of the race.

Five lawmakers said it was Doolittle’s decision whether to run and they would support whatever he decides to do. Six declined comment or said they hadn’t taken a position.

The five others offered a range of comments including positive words for Doolittle that fell short of specific pledges of support.

“He’s a good friend and I hope everything works out for him,” said Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Santa Clarita.

“I think whenever someone only gets 49 percent they need to soul-search on their electability,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, referring to Doolittle’s margin of victory against Democrat Charlie Brown last year.

Doolittle is seeking donations for his legal defense fund but as of Sept. 30 only one of his California colleagues had given ” Rep. Wally Herger, R-Marysville. Rohrabacher said he planned to give.

Brown is positioned to become the Democratic nominee next year as well and had 10 times as much campaign cash in the bank as Doolittle as of Sept. 30. Doolittle is facing two declared Republican primary opponents, including Eric Egland, an Air Force reservist and former Doolittle supporter who’s getting advice from Steve Schmidt, a former Bush White House operative. Egland has banked twice as much money as Doolittle.

Others are waiting in the wings, including Assemblyman Ted Gaines and former state Sen. Rico Oller, a Doolittle supporter who plans to run if Doolittle does drop out.

Some Republican analysts in California still think Doolittle could win next November.

“Doolittle might not be a slam dunk to hold the seat the way another Republican candidate would be, but even after all he’s gone through you’d still have to consider him the favorite,” said Dan Schnur, a veteran observer of California Republican politics.

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