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[Please be considerate of our guest, polite and on topic.  Any off topic comments should be taken to the prior thread.  With that, please help us welcome Russ Warner to FDL! -- CHS]

It seems like it was so much longer ago but I first met Russ Warner in someone’s backyard in Cheviot Hills less than 2 years ago. The occasion was a Wes Clark rally in October, 2005. Russ was there with his son, Greg, just back from Iraq and still in uniform. At the time Russ had decided to run against rubber stamp Republican incumbent David Dreier but he ignored a primary challenge which no one outside the district thought of as credible or serious.

People from outside the district don’t vote and Russ never got to actually go up against Dreier, who trounced his weak and unfunded and unfocused Democratic opponent.

Last year I did a series of stories about why I thought Russ would make a good opponent for Dreier and an excellent congressman for CA-26. Since then he has grown tremendously as a candidate and I’m glad he will finally get an opportunity to take out Dreier in ’08. He joins us live this afternoon from YKos in Chicago.

I’ve spent hours chatting with Russ in person and on the phone. He’s a sincere, honest, hardworking guy who has grown more and more progressive as he’s watched the Bush Regime and its minions, like Dreier, in action.

Dreier has been like a second representative from his hometown, Kansas City, far more than a rep from suburban L.A. He runs a property development business there and allegedly spends far more time there than he does in CA-26. In deference to Russ’ wish to keep it positive, I’ll just provide a link that talks about Dreier’s open secret and some of the other hypocrisy and nastiness around him. I do want to point out though that Dreier had such an electoral scare in 2004 — when he only got 54% of the vote, mostly because of anti-immigrant Hate Talk Radio hosts — that his campaign expenditure per vote received went from an already high $9.95 to the astronomical $28.54 last year. (His opponent spent 29 cents per vote she received in 2006.)

I asked Russ how his voting record would have differed from Dreier’s had he gotten to run against him in 2006 and beat him. The first words out of his mouth:

“I would have voted to get us out of Iraq.” I read him a front-page story about Dreier’s historical Iraq stand in the July 16th issue of the San Bernardino Sun. Where other congressmembers are backing away from their role in the catastrophe in Iraq, Dreier has not budged an inch. He still sounds 100% (not 99%) like Bush and his latest statement on the occupation was “You cannot claim to support our troops without supporting their mission.”

Russ blew up.

“I didn’t know occupying Iraq was their mission. This is all part of the web of lies this administration has spun. Everything they claimed they were, they ended up to be just the opposite. Most Republicans voters don’t even believe them anymore.”

That will be important in CA-26, a moderate district that has trended red. Gore and Kerry each got 44% of the vote against Bush. Russ thinks things have changed… drastically.

And he’s not pussyfooting around. He stood on a street-corner in Rancho Cucamonga for 8 weeks with local demonstrators asking drivers to honk if they opposed the war. Russ didn’t move in that direction lightly; remember Greg? He’s in his second year at West Point now. But Russ feels he’s completely in sync with his district; the majority of residents want out of Iraq and they want out now. It’s Dreier who is out of sync with moderate suburban districts like CA-26.

The other issues that Russ keeps hearing about from his neighbors (and future constituents) are about the environment and about the broken health care system. “The San Gabriel Mountains need to be protected from developers and that transcends party affiliation.”

Not for Dreier, who is a property developer himself and who sees the beauty of those mountains in a different way than the rest of us do. When Dreier is in the district he talks a good game about the environment but when he’s back in DC he votes against environmental concerns.

“He claims,” Russ told me, “the jury is still out on Global Warming and he has opposed giving the EPA the power to enforce air and water quality rules.”

As for healthcare, Russ says Dreier’s record is “dismal” and he points to the $431,990 in campaign cash he’s taken in from health care interests and their lobbyists. Dreier voted against the Patients’ Bill of Rights and against 5 consecutive bills to allow for the importation of drugs from Canada.

“Pharmaceutical and insurance companies are so powerful and they have so many different politicians in their pockets that I believe we need to get public servants elected to office who are willing to stand up to them. If they want to give me money, I’ll use it against them. I’m not expecting a cent from them.”

Still Russ has met the DCCC targets for “serious” challengers, bringing in over $100,000 in the last quarter, mostly from small donors in California. Dreier, one of the co-chairs of Giuliani’s California campaign, is loaded with money and ready to crank up the ole Republican smear and fear machine. He’s going to be facing a far more serious opponent this year than he has in the past.

I want to ask you to consider joining me in making a donation to Russ’ campaign. And, the first 20 people who contribute $25 or more towards Russ’ campaign will receive a real conversation-starter– your very own “IMPEACH CHENEY?” baseball cap, courtesy of the People’s Email Network’s in-person canvass and recruitment operation, the National Cheney Impeachment Poll. Although Blue America has a sneaking suspicion that you already know the correct answer, these “IMPEACH CHENEY?” caps are designed to sidestep the MSM, and plant the question in everyone’s minds locally. You can donate to Russ’ campaign here and if you don’t want the cap, just add an extra one cent to your donation.