Although political news in California’s Fourth District was dominated by Rep. John Doolittle and the announcement yesterday that the ten-term Republican was stepping down next year, there was a developing story that could potentially be more intriguing: the revival of one of Northern California’s most spirited political feuds in the Republican battle for succession to Doolittle.
Within hours of Doolittle’s announced exit, stalwart conservative former State Sen. Rico Oller signaled he was running for the open House district. Between fund-raising calls (“$26,000 in the last few hours,” he beamed), Oller told me he was indeed a candidate and would be running hard in the June primary. Oller was one of a handful of elected officials who backed conservative State Sen. Tom McClintock in the ’03 “recall election” for governor that led to the election of liberal GOPer Arnold Schwarzenegger. On issues ranging from abortion to gun control to opposition to taxes, Oller has been one of the most reliable conservatives in the state legislature.
Oller’s major primary opponent is expected to be moderate former Rep. Doug Ose, a millionaire businessman who represented the neighboring 3rd District from 1998-2004. When Ose honored his three-terms-I’m-out pledge in ’04, his sister Mary Ose carried the moderate banner and had backing from Republicans for Choice. As it turned out, the winner was neither; former Southern California Rep. and 1998 gubernatorial nominee Dan Lungren edged Oller by a margin of 39% to 36%, with Mary Ose coming in a distant third.
Things got rough in the primary, particularly after some hard-hitting attack ads by Ose on Oller, which his supporters say raised his negatives enough to permit Lungren to eke out a win. Oller and the Ose family hold one another, to use a phrase of the late House Speaker John W. McCormack, “in minimum high regard.”
Now Oller will again face Ose — Doug, that is, in a neighboring district in which neither currently resides. Ose lives in Sacramento, and Oller runs his contracting business in Calaveras County — both in the 3rd District. “But I’m in the process of moving into the 4th District,” Oller told me, “And I represented about 96% of the 4th District during my time in the state legislature.”
The former state senator and Steve Forbes for President booster in 1996 also pointed out that he looked forward to contrasting his record and issue stands with those of Ose. In Oller’s words, “I’m pro-life and he’s pro-abortion. I’m for no limits in campaign donations and he voted for McCain-Feingold. And I have a lifetime ‘A’ from the National Rifle Association. His record with them is abysmal.”
As reports linking Doolittle to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff increased last year, two other Republicans said they would run regardless of what the incumbent did: ’06 primary challenger Mike Holmes (who drew 33% of the primary vote against Doolittle) and Air Force reserve officer Eric Egland. But neither is likely to have the firepower of Ose or Oller.
The almost-certain Democratic nominee is retired Air Force Lieutenant Col. Charles Brown, who lost a tight race to Doolittle in ’06 (49% to 46%) following a campaign that focused on the Democrat’s opposition to the U.S. strike against Iraq and his charge that Doolittle was part of the “congressional bribery scandals.” Whether or not Brown will pack the same political clout in ’08 may well depend on how much damage Oller and Ose inflict upon one another in what is sure to be one of the hardest-fought primaries for any office anywhere.