Dead heat for Doolittle

Incumbent Congressman John Doolittle might actually have some competition for a change. According to a poll commissioned by his opponent’s campaign, Doolittle is in a much closer race than anyone expected with his Democratic challenger, Charles Brown.

The poll, conducted by the Berenson Strategy Group in the last week of August, found only one-third of likely voters in the 4th District were inclined to re-elect him. In spite of his overwhelming name recognition (86 percent vs. a mere 33 percent for Brown), Doolittle snagged 41 percent of likely voters, compared with 39 percent for the challenger. This was within the poll’s margin of error, leading to the Brown campaign’s claim that the race is a “statistical dead heat.” These results, according to the poll report, were before any positive or negative comments about either candidate were read.

Brown thinks the poll “confirms what we have been seeing and hearing on the campaign trail for months.”

Richard Robinson, a spokesman for the Doolittle campaign, told SN&R that the poll’s results were not consistent with the Doolittle campaign’s internal polling and “do not even resemble reality.” Robinson described the release of the poll as “just a publicity stunt for a struggling campaign.”

Political analyst Barbara O’Connor, a professor of communications at CSUS and the director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media, told SN&R that although there hasn’t been any recent outside polling on the 4th’s race, she’s inclined to think the poll is more accurate than not. “Campaign polls are always a little suspect,” she said, “because of the way questions may be worded.” But in this case, O’Connor has seen evidence that supports the poll’s conclusions. “I think that this race is much closer than normal for Doolittle,” she said.

That’s leading national Democrats to pay attention. Kate Bedingfield, of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told SN&R that they are upgrading the 4th District to the category of “emerging races” and are encouraging Democrats to donate heavily to Brown’s campaign. “John Doolittle has made himself vulnerable by tying himself to some of the most high-profile ethical scandals,” Bedingfield said.

Meanwhile, President Bush is scheduled to attend a fund-raiser for Doolittle on October 3, even though Doolittle has already raised more than a million dollars this election cycle.

“It’s clear that national Republicans are sending the president in to try and raise money for a campaign that is lacking direction,” Bedingfield said.

—Kel Munger

Sunny solutions for Africa

After seeing TV shots of women in Africa gathering firewood, it seems that soon there’ll be nothing but desert. However, a recent visitor from Kenya, Margaret Owino, speaking on September 13 at a gathering here of Solar Cookers International, paints a more hopeful picture. For the past eight years, she has worked as the Eastern Africa representative of SCI headquartered in Sacramento.

“As firewood and kerosene become scarce and more expensive, solar cooking plays an important part in saving energy and providing a healthier life for people in many parts of Africa,” she tells us. “We started this beautiful project called Sunny Solutions that has benefited many.”

We might explain that solar cookers are usually made of cardboard covered with foil and turned to reflect the sun. This makes a low-tech solar oven where food cooked in dark, covered pots may reach temperatures of 200 degrees to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s safe, and food cannot be overcooked.

As a former high-school teacher and administrator, Owino was chosen by SCI to teach women how to use the cooker, which sells for $7 each. “We select women depending on their level of education and enthusiasm and train them in the use of this tool,” said Owino. “They pass the word woman to woman and, as they sell the cookers to others, earn some income for themselves. This often changes their lives as they earn the respect of the men.”

According to Owino, the women are going out talking to people in the community, something they never did before, and some are even going into politics. According to SCI, where there’s plenty of sun, solar power not only cooks the food inexpensively, but also provides a low-tech way to purify water. For more information, check www.solarcookers.org.

—Grace Ertel