Change the rules and you will change election outcomes.  In 2012, California’s senior congressman, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Fremont), was challenged by another Democrat.  He won more votes in the primary election, but it did not matter because he faced a fellow Democrat in the “top two” runoff that fall.   And in November he lost.  Now it is GOP Congressman Tom McClintock’s turn to face, not a Democrat in his re-election, but a fellow Republican.

On March 7, the last day to file, Republican Art Moore, 35, a native of Auburn in Placer County and a graduate of West Point, filed to run against McClintock.  He has spent 14 years in the military, most recently with a light infantry battalion in the Sinai Desert, and is currently a businessman in Roseville.  Veteran campaign consultant Rob Stutzman is running his campaign.

McClintock was first elected in 2008 to the 4th Congressional district that currently covers all or part of 10 foothill counties from Nevada County to Fresno County, winning the then closed Republican Primary with 54 percent of the vote against former three other candidates.  He was challenged by a Democrat in November but eked out a narrow win despite the heavily Republican nature of the district.  He was basically unopposed in the next two cycles.

Now there is no closed primary, and in fact the primary election does not even matter.  No Democrat field for this seat, so this is a general election “top two” contest between McClintock and Moore.  Here is the danger to McClintock; in 2008 he won the closed primary in this 45 percent Republican district, and under the old system that was enough; he was the only Republican on the ballot.

Now there will be two Republicans, and the race will be a general election race where Democrats and independent have as much say in who wins as the Republican voters.  Moore’s job will be simply to win a larger percentage of Democrats and independents than McClintock’s share of Republicans.  This happened in an overlapping Assembly district in 2012, where conservative stalwart Rico Oller, a former GOP legislator, led in the primary but lost to a more centrist Republican, now Assemblyman Frank Bigelow (R-Madera), in the general election.  A top two run off with two Republicans completely changes the dynamics in a safe Republican seat like this one.

In his announcement Moore raised two issues against McClintock.  First, he has never lived in his district; in fact, McClintock lives in Elk Grove well outside the district.  That may or may not matter to voters, but the second issue Moore raised is more fundamental.

In 2008, McClintock told the Los Angeles Times he would not take his legislative pension while in Congress.  Most voters, especially Republicans, think the state’s pension system is bloated and firmly oppose a public official taking a pension while still on the public payroll, a practice known as “double dipping.”    But an investigation by the Sacramento Bee showed that, in fact, McClintock has been taking his state legislative pension, worth $9,845, while receiving his congressional pay of $170,000.  McClintock has long railed against excessive public pensions, but when asked about this apparent hypocrisy, he snapped, “You’d have to take up that question with Mrs. McClintock.”

McClintock’s dilemma is very understandable.  He has held public office since he was 25-years-old and has never had a job in the private sector, so of course he will take every opportunity to pad his bank account with public dollars, why shouldn’t he.  McClintock is a throwback to the old time Tammany pol, George Washington Plunkett, who famously said, “There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works. I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”

But when it comes to helping pad his constituents’ bank accounts, McClintock’s attitude is different.  In January 2013, McClintock opposed the “fiscal cliff” deal because it raised taxes for the top two percent of taxpayers.  But the deal continued tax breaks for the other 98 percent, including a large share of his own constituents.  Many are retired and live off stock dividends.  There is a nifty tax break for “qualified dividends” in the Bush tax cuts that McClintock voted to repeal in opposing the fiscal cliff compromise. Had McClintock prevailed, it would have raised taxes for his constituents.

He also opposed the 2014 farm bill, despite having a district with significant agriculture.  That bill included a one-year extension of a program that compensates rural counties for local tax revenues they’ve lost because of excessive federal land acquisitions.  McClintock represents eight mostly rural counties that would benefit from this program.  His vote against the farm bill was to raise taxes in rural counties.  Fortunately for his rural counties the farm bill passed and they get the break.

McClintock did not prevail in these votes that hurt his constituents because the House GOP leadership made sure the fiscal cliff and farm bill passed.  But he did prevail in the Tea Party inspired effort to shut down the government last fall.  Nowhere in California did people suffer more from the shutdown than in tiny Mariposa County, half of whose economy depends on Yosemite Park that was closed by the government shutdown he supported, and McClintock represents Mariposa County.

McClintock and his supporters justify this behavior because of his devotion to principle. McClintock sees his district as merely a vehicle for his election to Congress where he focuses, Churchill like, on the cosmic issues, and never compromises on anything, even when compromise may be of benefit to his own district.

However, McClintock does favor one compromise; he would like to give amnesty to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, as he told a local television station last August.  It is beyond question that Snowden, a favorite of the anti-American hard left, has done more damage to this nation’s security than anyone since Communist Party members Julius and Ethel Rosenberg gave the Russians the secret of the atomic bomb.  The Rosenbergs were executed for espionage at Sing Sing Prison in 1953. One has to wonder whether McClintock wants posthumous amnesty for them too.

It should be an interesting nine month campaign in the 4th Congressional district.