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Northern California Rep. Tom McClintock was endorsed Wednesday night by the California Republican Party, an unconventional step initiated by party activists after the conservative icon drew an intraparty challenger.

State GOP Chairman Jim Brulte announced the unanimous decision at the end of a telephone meeting in which McClintock pressed for the endorsement and his Republican rival, Art Moore, urged the state party board to remain neutral.

McClintock, R-Elk Grove, and a veteran of state politics, said he's devoted his life to the party's principles and to electing Republicans to office. He said he's contributed more than $700,000 to the party and GOP candidates over the last five years and has the support of party leaders from Washington, D.C. to Tuolumne County. Endorsements from groups as diverse as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the tea-party aligned FreedomWorks PAC demonstrate that there is no rift in the party's ranks over his candidacy, he said.

"The press is desperately trying to portray this as a Republican civil war. They want this party to be divided in the November election with the focus on Republicans fighting Republicans instead of all of us uniting behind our candidates," McClintock said by phone Wednesday. "But this is not a Republican civil war."

The California GOP has made it tougher of late for candidates to get its endorsement over fellow Republicans. California Democrats, on the other hand, have a regular process in which the party wades into contested intraparty races.

McClintock, who was elected to Congress in 2008, seemed poised to easily win another term this fall. But after Moore, a businessman and military veteran, entered the race on the day of the filing deadline, 10 county central committees across the massive district informed Brulte that there was widespread support for McClintock.

Many of the activists from Placer and El Dorado counties took issue with the 36-year-old political newcomer's attacks on their congressman. Moore, who grew up in the region, assailed his rival for living outside the Roseville-centered district and for accepting a taxpayer-funded pension despite refusing to do so in the past.

McClintock has hit back at Moore for never voting in an election. Later, he sent a mailer that contrasted his positions with independent Jeffrey Gerlach. Democratic activists who saw Moore as their best shot at taking out the incumbent were furious, accusing McClintock of trying to slyly boost Gerlach's standing given his pledge not to spend more than $5,000 in the primary.

GOP constituents from the 4th Congressional District thanked Moore for his military service – with at least one suggesting that they would consider supporting him in another race – but they questioned the wisdom of taking on a solid Republican.

On Wednesday, Moore said he believes the competition he would provide should he advance to the general election in November would be healthy for the party. Regardless of who wins, the 4th district will remain in the hands of Republicans, he noted.

"If I win, there is going to be a Republican who will bring a new set of skills to Congress, who will be a team player, and who will work hard with Chairman Brulte and Kevin McCarthy to fundraise and help other Republicans get elected," Moore said. "And if Tom wins, we all know what he brings to the table."

PHOTO: Rep. Tom McClintock at a November 2009 hearing on Capitol Hill. Abaca Press/Olivier Douliery.


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