National significance seen in California 11th District

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DUBLIN, Calif. — Jerry McNerney, one of dozens of Democrats aiming to unseat congressional Republicans this fall, tells voters: “We all live in Richard Pombo’s district.”

The slogan, emblazoned beneath a world map in his campaign headquarters, is an attempt to add significance to his race against Mr. Pombo, the chairman of the House Resources Committee.

Environmental issues have defined the campaign. Mr. McNerney accuses Mr. Pombo, a 14-year incumbent, of being reckless in his leadership position by supporting offshore drilling and writing an energy bill that is friendly to the oil industry.

“His positions are so radical, and he hasn’t been able to get much done,” said Mr. McNerney, a consultant on renewable energy who runs a company that manufactures wind turbines.

The Democrat and national environmental groups accuse Mr. Pombo of trying to help oil companies more than ordinary citizens.

The protesters who trail Mr. Pombo’s campaign events and the involvement of national groups illustrate the significance of this election battle. Pollsters think the race is one of 35 or so this year that could shift control of Congress.

“I’m a chairman of a major committee now, and I’m a bigger target. They’ve made this a national thing and they’re coming after me,” Mr. Pombo said at a campaign appearance in Manteca.

The Cook Political Report has listed the race on its collection of districts that “lean Republican” and could allow Democrats to regain control of the House.

The political arms of the League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife are campaigning against Mr. Pombo. The Defenders of Wildlife calls the incumbent a “villain.”

“Pombo’s embarrassing actions reflect the broader political climate in which members of the majority leadership … are trying to break rules, abuse power and exploit recent tragedies in the Gulf Region in order to advance a radical, anti-conservation agenda and shower legislative gifts on their corporate cronies,” says a League of Conservation Voters report.

This contest is a rematch for the candidates: Mr. Pombo, 45, beat Mr. McNerney, 55, two years ago. The Republican received 61 percent of the vote to the Democrat’s 39 percent.

The 11th District in central California voted 54 percent for President Bush in 2004, but Republican support shows signs of waning.

Mr. Pombo’s political committees received $54,500 from Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist who has been convicted of bribing public officials in exchange for legislative favors for his affiliates.

Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington named Mr. Pombo one of the 13 “Most Corrupt Members of Congress,” and said he has paid family members out of his campaign fund.

Mr. McNerney also faces challenges. Many Democrats wince when they hear about some of his campaign mistakes.

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