Face-off | SierraSun.com

Face-off

David Bunker
Sierra Sun

The differences between incumbent Congressman John Doolittle and challenger Mike Holmes, both Republicans, are striking.

The two candidates are vying for the party’s nomination on Tuesday to run for California’s 4th District U.S. House of Representative seat in the November election. It is perhaps the most interesting local race, mostly because of Doolittle’s questionable lobbyist ties, and the belief by Holmes that Doolittle, once deemed nearly invincible in the heavily Republican district, is vulnerable.

Doolittle is an entrenched member of the House, a 15-year veteran of Congress and a politician since age 31. Holmes, the mayor of Auburn, is a newcomer to national politics, a former Navy officer and diplomat.

Doolittle is supported by the Republican political establishment, backing that has allowed him to raise more than $1 million for his campaign with the help of a recent fundraising dinner attended by Vice President Dick Cheney.

“Our fund-raising has never been better,” said Doolittle, in a Friday meeting with the Sierra Sun.

Holmes dislikes fundraising, and has raised only about one tenth of Doolittle’s warchest.

“It’s the least desirable aspect of the campaign,” said Holmes, in a previous interview with the Sierra Sun.

Doolittle lives in Northern Virginia, just south of the nation’s capital. Holmes lives in Placer County, and pledges to continue living in the district if he is elected.

The differences go on and on; from the candidates position on the Auburn Dam proposal, the Iraq War and campaign financing.

Despite his deep fundraising disadvantage, Holmes said he is optimistic about his chances on Tuesday

“We’re very upbeat,” he said from his home on Friday. “Just anecdotally, we have a large number of people who have voted for our campaign by absentee ballot.”

Doolittle, while campaigning in the district and gearing up his fundraising machine, said that he largely dismisses Holmes’ candidacy and is looking toward November.

“That situation has never been a particular concern,” Doolittle said of Holmes’ run. “Our eyes are on November.”

But Doolittle’s massive fundraising and campaign spending is a sign that he believes he is more in danger of losing his seat this term than ever before, Holmes countered.

“I think he’s concerned,” Holmes said. “He hasn’t shown this much interest in getting out in the past.”

The unavoidable subtext to this congressional election is the speculation swirling around Doolittle about his ties to one of the largest lobbyist and political contribution scandals to ever hit Washington. Doolittle was close friends with, and received contributions from admitted felon and former Washington lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.

He was close with disgraced ex-Rep. Randy Cunningham, and received money from defense contractor Brent Wilkes, who is suspected of bribing Cunningham.

Doolittle said this election cycle has been the most difficult he has faced.

“It’s had an impact. There’s no question about it,” he said of the innuendo. “It’s amazing to be reading Time magazine and that I know a lot of these people.”

Among the Republican’s faithful, Doolittle said many people are tired of hearing the rumors about him without seeing any hard evidence.

“I think people are getting sick of hearing about [Abramoff],” he said.

That voter burnout has buoyed the eighth-term Congressman’s confidence. So too has the support he has received during his travels through his district.

All the unflattering media coverage ” including “close to $1 million in negative publicity” from the Sacramento Bee, joked Doolittle ” may have worked to his advantage.

“That’s why we’ve raised money,” he said. “Our fund-raising has never been better.”

Holmes ” who said that Doolittle’s ethics, “or lack thereof,” are an issue ” said the vote should come down to who will be more committed to the residents of the district. Holmes said he, unlike Doolittle, will be unencumbered by ambitions to climb the party’s political ladder, and will instead focus in representing the district.

“If you go to the basic bottom line, John Doolittle has been more concerned about what’s going on inside the Beltway and making money for himself and his family and less concerned about representing the average voter in the 4th Congressional District, and I’ll change that,” Holmes said.