It happens every year. Nice people send themselves up to sure political
slaughter in order to uphold an ideal. Every election season Republicans and
Democrats alike spend months going door to door getting thousands of
required signatures and then they pay a filing fee to enter an election they
are all but sure to lose.
As the Republican candidate for California’s 9th Congressional District,
which includes the cities of Oakland and Berkeley, John den Dulk is running
an uphill campaign against Democratic incumbent Barbara Lee. The
Congresswoman, who is seeking her fifth term, distinguished herself by
casting the only congressional vote against taking military action after the
9/11 terrorist attacks.
Den Dulk, who is a 59-year-old travel agent and academic author, appreciates
the challenge. He looks like a high school history teacher as he leans back
in his office chair, wooden pointer in hand. “Some people who run in
districts with difficult registrations tend to go through the motions. I
intend to run a serious campaign,” he says, listing some success stories.
“This is not necessarily a hopeless task, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney
faced similar registrations.”
The 9th District, which encompasses parts of Oakland, Berkeley, Albany,
Piedmont, Emeryville and other portions of the East Bay, is overwhelmingly
Democratic. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans almost 4
to 1. The difference between den Dulk and the Romney’s of the political
world is that den Dulk has never run for nor held a political office. He is
the opposite of a high-profile candidate.
“Sometimes it’s tough because the numbers are so far against you, you feel
like a sacrificial lamb,” said Sean O’Shea, Executive Director of the
Alameda Republican Party. “But, this shouldn’t be a complete cakewalk for
the Democratic Party.”
Den Dulk, who has been politically active behind the scenes in the
Republican Party including as part of Ronald Regan’s 1980 presidential
campaign, said the need for a choice was obvious to him. He added his
support for more Republicans who would be willing to step up to the
challenge in June as well.
“The last competitive primary in this seat was probably the first time Ron
Dellums ran for re-election,” he said.
Den Dulk’s father, who was also named John, was one of the Republican
primary candidates vying to run against Dellums in that re-election bid in
1972. When his father lost in the primary, the younger den Dulk went to work
for the winning Republican candidate. Dellums, who is now running for mayor
of Oakland, first ran for the seat in 1970, which was then the 7th district,
and held it for 13 terms until his resignation in 1998. Lee, who had
formerly served as one of Dellum’s aids, won the seat that year and has held
the office with safe margins ever since.
“If they had pictures of Barbara Lee and the House Democratic Caucus
plotting with al-Qaida to blow up New York, with the blueprints on the
table, she still would win re-election in the 9th District,” said Republican
political consultant Kevin Spillane.
Spillane said incumbency is a particular advantage at the national level,
where the restrictive term limits of the California state house aren’t in
place. Still, he said candidates often step up to mount some sort of
“There is something called the human deniability of reality that I have
noticed, and I mean it’s both parties. It’s a weird part of human nature and
the chance they’ll win is two or three million to one,” he said.
He explained that he believes four kinds of people step up to this duty. The
first is the “good soldier”, the party loyalist who is willing to just put
his or her name out despite knowing that chances of winning are slim. Then
there’s the party person who accepts the duty to help the district appoint
people to the state’s party committee, or the person who wants to use the
opportunity as a platform for an issue. And last, but certainly not least in
Spillane’s opinion, are “the crazies”.
“You have to wonder how many are credible and how many are whack jobs,” he
For every whack job, however, Spillane and many consultants can name a
longshot candidate who won and served a productive term or two, leaving
everyone surprised and leaving a small legend in the political community.
Den Dulk hopes to be that unlikely longshot, but in the meantime he is using
the campaign as a platform for improving the public understanding of
“There hasn’t been a typical day yet. We’re trying to get the office and the
fundraising going. Aside from people to man the phones and type out thank