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Few friends for troubled lawmaker

By
November 23, 2007

Rep. John Doolittle is garnering tepid public support from his California GOP colleagues in the latest sign of his slumping political fortunes as he aims for re-election while under criminal investigation.

Doolittle, a nine-term conservative who represents a heavily Republican district in northernmost California, is under scrutiny along with his wife, Julie, for their ties to jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The ethics cloud nearly cost him re-election last year and since then his legal problems have worsened with grand jury subpoenas issued to him and aides and an FBI raid on his home.

In recent weeks Doolittle has sought out fellow Republicans in California’s House delegation for one-on-one discussions aimed at assessing and shoring up his support, according to several lawmakers who met with him. Doolittle, who has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime, declined to comment.

House Republican leaders are short on campaign funds to shore up weak incumbents and eager to shake off the taint of ethics scandals. They have pointedly passed up chances to endorse Doolittle despite a policy of supporting incumbents.

Backing from his peers is crucial if Doolittle, who is not personally wealthy, is to muster the financial and political resources for an expensive campaign while also paying lawyers’ fees in a criminal investigation.

“The only thing we know for certain is Doolittle is in trouble. The party leadership does not want to spend a huge sum of money to hold onto this seat,” said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican strategist in Los Angeles and publisher of the nonpartisan Target Book that tracks political races. “It’s almost Doolittle versus the world.”

Doolittle has insisted that he intends to run for re-election, and aides said this week that hasn’t changed. The candidate filing period for California’s June 2008 primary runs from Feb. 11 to March 7.

Doolittle’s resolve has been strengthened by a poll in his district late last month paid for by the House Republican campaign committee. It showed him beating potential primary opponents by wide margins and within the margin of error against his likely Democratic challenger, according to a Republican supporter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the poll is not public.

In interviews with The Associated Press, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was the only one of Doolittle’s 18 California House GOP colleagues who would go so far as to say he believed Doolittle should run for re-election. Rohrabacher was also the only member of Congress to write a leniency letter on Abramoff’s behalf to a sentencing judge last year.

One GOP lawmaker, Rep. John Campbell, already had said publicly that it would be best if Doolittle got out of the race.

Five lawmakers said it was Doolittle’s decision whether to run and they would support whatever he decides to do. Six declined to comment or said they hadn’t taken a position.

The five others offered a range of comments including positive words for Doolittle that fell short of specific pledges of support.

“He’s a good friend and I hope everything works out for him,” said Republican Rep. Buck McKeon.