Election 2006 Analysis: That’s Congressman McDonkey

Forget all the pundits’ theories of why Jerry McNerney is going to be the newest member of the Bay Area Congressional delegation. The answer is simple: The man’s stubbornness.

Two years ago, McNerney filed to run in the 11th Congressional District at the last minute as a write-in candidate. In order to make it past the 2004 primary, the write-in candidate needed 1,740 votes to qualify as the Democratic Party’s nominee in the general election against Pombo (since no one else had the guts to take on the incumbent). He fell 73 votes short. And that’s when a historic decision was made: McNerney paid for a recount, refusing to believe he didn’t have the votes. The recount found 75 extra. And although Pombo slaughtered him in the 2004 general election, McNerney made contacts that made him competitive in 2006.

In other words, if McNerney didn’t pay for that recount in 2004, we wouldn’t be talking about him today.

The McNerney victory is a feel-good, underdog story. Here’s a guy who had never held elective office, or even sat on a local commission, and he did what people considered impossible just a few months ago: He beat Pombo. His own party didn’t believe in him and ran its own more “electable” candidate, whom McNerney creamed in the primary.

Democratic leaders supposedly feared that McNerney was too liberal for the district. But the guy had one thing going for him: He wasn’t a politician. One of his opponents in the primary accused him of being a dull candidate, which he kinda was. But one on one, he’s immensely personable, nice. He listens. Volunteers liked that about him, a Project Blue Bridge organizer says.

At a press conference earlier today, Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, made another interesting point. Pope told reporters that if Republican Pete McCloskey didn’t challenge Pombo in the primary, Pombo is still the congressman from Tracy: “Republicans needed a reason to look at Pombo.” McCloskey gave them that reason and clearly helped spread doubt about the incumbent, which lasted until yesterday. Since it’s a district with nearly 6 percent more Republicans than Democrats, Republicans had to have defected and voted for McNerney to give him his margin of victory.

So, congrats, Mr. McNursery. Maybe people voted against Pombo more than they voted for you, but either way you’re now a congressman.

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