Possible GOP challenger to Rep. Doolittle featured in ceremony | SierraSun.com

Possible GOP challenger to Rep. Doolittle featured in ceremony

Erica Werner
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) ” An Air Force Reserve officer who is considering a primary challenge to GOP Rep. John Doolittle of Rocklin was showcased during a presidential Rose Garden speech Friday.

President Bush mentioned Eric Egland in comments on Iraq, and Egland stood behind the president with other veterans and military family members as the event was televised live on cable channels.

A potential Egland candidacy has been promoted most prominently by Steve Schmidt, a former White House spokesman who now lives in Doolittle’s district. However, Egland’s appearance was unrelated to his possible candidacy against Doolittle, officials said.

“Today’s event was an opportunity for the president to thank various military support organizations for their work on behalf of our troops and had nothing to do with California politics,” White House spokesman Trey Bohn said.

“Congressman Doolittle is a strong supporter of our troops and our mission in Iraq and we are confident in his commitment to fighting the war on terror.”

Doolittle is under federal investigation in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal and won re-election to a ninth term by a dangerously narrow margin last November. Nonetheless, most Republican officials in his district remain publicly supportive.

Egland, 37, has started a pro-military group called Troops Need You that collects money to send supplies to Iraq. Bush mentioned him after urging Congress to pass funding for the war.

“One of the folks with us today is an Air Force reservist named Eric Egland. Here’s what he said, he said: ‘We live in the world’s oldest democ`racy and have been blessed with the strength to protect our freedoms and to help others who seek the same,'” Bush said.

“It was amazing,” Egland said later. He said he was nearing a decision on running against Doolittle, whom he supported for re-election last year.

“The facts on the ground have changed significantly since November and the average voter in the district is walking away from him,” Egland said in an interview.

Doolittle spokesman Ron Rogers said that Egland first met Bush when the president was campaigning for Doolittle.

“We are glad to have been able to propagate their initial acquaintance when the president and first lady were here on the congressman’s behalf,” Rogers said. “The congressman hopes they had a productive meeting and looks forward to working with them both on meeting needs of our troops and the fight on terror.”

Doolittle’s Democratic opponent last year, Charlie Brown, was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.