The most talked about issue in the 15th Congressional District campaign hasn't been national security, health care or the economy. Instead, the focus has turned to what's the latest, strange statement from Rep. Pete Stark.
, when Stark, who has been in Congress since 1972, accused his opponent and fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell of taking bribes while on the Dublin City Council. A week later, .
Earlier this week, Stark met with editors and reporters at the San Francisco Chronicle. Stark claimed a Chronicle writer, Debra J. Saunders, had contributed to Swalwell's campaign. When asked to provide evidence of the accusation, .
In the same meeting at the Chronicle, Stark seemed to confuse Solyndra — the solar company that went bankrupt last year — with a car manufacturer.
On Thursday, Stark met with another news organization, this time the Bay Area News Group, and when pressed on a claim that Swalwell had taken money from a developer that was raided by the FBI, Stark said he was wrong and apologized.
"I think he's making bizarre and malicious accusations with the intent to fool and deceive voters," said Swalwell, the 31-year-old Dublin City Councilman. "But voters will see them for what they are."
How much political damage the false accusations have had on Stark's chances to stay in Congress isn't clear. No public polling has been done on the race and Stark's endorsements, which include many of the most influential political figures in the area, have not backed away from their support.
Calls to Nancy Pelosi's office and the California Democratic Party (both of whom have endorsed Stark), to ask if they are wavering in their support of Stark in light of his recent actions, were not immediately returned.
One sign Stark's actions have had consequences is The Chronicle endorsed Swalwell on Thursday, saying, "Stark's disregard for the truth, not to mention basic decency, has been on embarrassing display in Campaign 2012."
Though Stark has had a tough week politically, he is likely to have time to make amends.
Stark and Swalwell are on the June 5 primary ballot with conservative Chris Pareja. The top two in the race, no matter the party affiliation, will compete in the general election. With a large financial and organizational advantage, Stark and Swalwell are expected to finish ahead of Pareja in the new district that starts in San Ramon, goes west to San Leandro, east past Livermore and down to Union City.
Swalwell may or may not be able to beat Stark in November, but thanks to the veteran congressman's mishaps — Swalwell's chances seem better than they did a week ago.