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Aide says Matthews pushed to face Pombo

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Posted: Wednesday, June 8, 2005 10:00 pm

National Democrats are trying to recruit California Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews, D-Tracy, to run for the U.S. Congressional seat held by Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, according to Matthews' chief of staff Cathleen Galgiani.

Galgiani said that House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, called California Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, on Monday and asked him to personally ask Matthews to run.

Matthews has not made a decision to run or set a timetable for announcing one, Galgiani said.

A spokesman for Nunez's office said Wednesday that Nunez does not comment on personal conversations. Officials with Pelosi's office in Washington D.C. could not confirm by press time whether she had made the request of Nunez.

This is not the first time Matthews has been asked to challenge Pombo, Galgiani said. However, it is the first time that such a request has come directly from so high in the Democratic power structure.

"Barbara was asked after the last election would run, and at the time she said no," Galgiani said.

Matthews trounced Republican challenger Nelly McGarry in that election last fall by a margin of 60.3 percent to 39.7 percent.

This was despite running in a district that largely mirrors Pombo's congressional district, which has been widely considered safely Republican. The 17th District that Matthews represents includes both Tracy and about half a Stockton.

"She has a good voting record for the district and did extremely well in the last election," Galgiani said of her boss.

For instance, Galgiani said, Matthews was a big supporter of the University of California Merced. The school will open its doors in the fall as the first new UC since 1965 and the first located in the San Joaquin Valley.

Galgiani said Matthews is also considered strong on two of Pombo's pet issues: fiscal responsibility and agriculture policy. Galgiani noted Matthews' efforts in combating wasteful buying patterns in the state and her work as chair of the Assembly's Agriculture Committee.

Another vote that may help was Matthews' decision last week to vote against the bill proposed by Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, that would have legalized gay marriage in the state. Matthews said she voted against the bill in order to reflect the wishes of her constituents. The bill ultimately failed 37-36.

Next year, Matthews will be termed out after three two-year terms in the Assembly. Galgiani has already announced that she will seek her boss's seat.

The name that had been circulated in recent weeks as a challenger to Pombo was that of state senator Mike Machado, D-Linden. Machado's press secretary, Jody Fuji, said that she Machado had not yet made a decision. She added that they had not yet heard anything of Pelosi's recruitment of Matthews.

Pombo is one of a small group of Republicans whom Democrats appear to be targeting in the election cycle, partially due to the perception that he has had been caught up in recent ethics scandals and has a close relationship with House majority leader Tom Delay, R-Texas.

Pombo has denied any connection to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and accused Democrats of "scandal-shopping" in the press.

"The guy's never lobbied me on anything," Pombo said.

Associate Editor Ben van der Meer contributed to this report.

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