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Pombo won't see challenge from democrats Machado or Matthews

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Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2005 10:00 pm

For months, pundits have been anticipating a political matchup between Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and either of a pair of high-profile Democratic challengers: State Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, or State Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews, D-Tracy.

Neither will happen.

Matthews withdrew her name from consideration Tuesday, according to Cathleen Galgiani, her chief of staff. This followed an announcement Monday by Machado that he's not running either.

As a moderate-to-conservative Democrat who has consistently done well in a district that overlaps Pombo's, Matthews was considered one of the party's best shots to beat the Tracy native on his home turf.

Her credentials are so strong that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, personally requested that she run.

However, Matthews had been leaning against a run all along, according to Galgiani.

"We've had a good working relationship with Congressman Pombo, and he's in a key position to help the Central Valley with his committee assignments," Galgiani said.

Machado's staff gave a different set of reasons behind his decision not to run.

"He made a commitment to fulfill his term and represent the voters of the 5th District, and he's going to keep that promise," said Jodie Fuji, Machado's chief of staff. "In addition, it was a very personal family decision."

Pombo is one of several Republicans that Democrats have decided to target in the 2006 elections. Much of this has to do with Pombo's status as a powerful conservative in the midst of the Bay Area's Democratic stronghold.

For instance, Pombo has used his chairmanship of the House Resources Committee to attack some of the Democrats' most cherished laws, notably the Endangered Species Act.

Pombo has won his last several elections by comfortable margins. Last year he beat Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney by 61 percent to 39 percent. Republicans also hold a several point registration edge in Pombo's district, though several Democrats have argued that this is changing as commuters move in.

Machado and Matthews' decisions not to run appear to leave the field to two lesser-known challengers.

One of these is McNerney, who said he would benefit from a changing district and from Pombo's high-profile attacks on environmental law.

But he also admitted that name recognition was a problem in his last race, especially since Pombo is a Tracy native.

"You're talking to people, and they say 'Richie Pombo? I went to school with him. I could never vote against him,'" McNerney said.

Another announced Democratic candidate is Dublin computer engineer Scott Chacon. Chacon fits the model of newer district residents, in that he commutes two hours a day.

Chacon said he plans to limit contributions to $100 and overcome his lack of name recognition by developing an Internet-based campaign.

"I believe that Pombo's abuse of power and ethics problems are becoming far more widely known in our district," Chacon said. "Pombo's actions have given us an opportunity."

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