A little while ago I sat down for American Spectator meet-and-greet with California State Sen. Tom McClintock, the Republican candidate for an open, northeast CA seat abandoned by the corrupt John Doolittle. McClintock is a sort of rock star in Republican circles for two reasons: his long-time anti-tax activism (he's gotten almost every Republican in the State Senate to sign a no-tax pledge) and his quixotic 2003 run in the gubernatorial recall. In 2002 and 2006 he'd lost heartbreakingly close races for statewide offices, so his chances at advancement looked non-existent until Doolittle quit and McClintock entered the race for a House seat 418 miles away from his Thousand Oaks home.

McClintock dismissed any idea that the "carpetbagger" charge would hurt him. "That's already been used against me, in the primary. And I won by about 16 points." He'd carried the district in two of his statewide races, and when I asked about his chances this time, he instantly recalled that political prognosticator Charlie Cook had increased the partisan slant of the seat from "Leans" to "Likely" Republican. Barring a Democratic landslide, he'll probably be a congressman.

"Democracies tend to drift off course," he said. "That's not new. But as a crisis approaches, Americans can sense a common danger and we always rise to the occasion." He saw the real political split in this country (and everywhere else) as between "authoritarians and libertarians," with authoritarians in the saddle now but libertarians coming on strong.

I asked McClintock how he would have voted on the FISA bill. "I don't know," he said. "There are elements that concern me from a libertarian perspective. I don't believe that the Bill of Rights extends beyond these shores, but I am concerned with civil liberties in this country, and with warrantless surveillance of Americans."

Jim Antle of The American Spectator asked what local enthusiasm was like for John McCain. "He wasn't my 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th choice," said McClintock. "But we can damn well tell the difference between a fireman and a firestarter." He allowed that McCain was right on earmarks.

McClintock was the state chair of Fred Thompson's campaign, but before he took that role he'd said nice things about Ron Paul, comparing him to George Washington. I asked him about that. "Ron Paul energized a cross-section of voters with a clear message: We want our Constitution back, and we want it all back." Thus, the Washington (and Jefferson) comparison.

Where did McClintock disagree with Paul? "He had a problem with butterflies. At the debates, for example, he'd make a powerful statement, then… a butterfly would go floating by, and he'd be off onto something else." McClintock, like Paul, supported a return to the gold standard, "although I don't know how you get there right now."

Several of the journalists in the room noticed McClintock hadn't attacked Paul's foreign policy. Did he agree with that? "On part of it, I do. When we were attacked on 9/11, the president should have identified the countries that worked with al Qaeda and the Congress should have voted on an official declaration of war. By failing to do that, we created this tug of war between Congress and the president, which is something we should have learned to avoid after Korea, after Vietnam."

One more note of pessimism: "If the worst case scenario is greatly increased Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and a President Obama, we can deal with that. Four years of Jimmy Carter gave us eight years of Ronald Reagan. I think when you look back that wasn't a bad trade."

UPDATE: Also, I asked McClintock which way he'll vote on California's anti-gay marriage initiative. "I'll vote for it and I'll work to help it pass," he said. "I make no moral judgments about homosexuality, but marriage is a natural institution meant to bring children into this world and inculcate them with social customs." What was the effect on California, so far, of the gay weddings? "It's another step in the deterioration of marriage. We've seen it deteriorated by welfare laws that make fathers' incomes disposable. We've seen it with no-fault divorce laws."