For four years, McNerney has carved his niche as the "people's congressman." Nearly every weekend, he flies from Washington to his home in the 11th District, reaching out to his constituents in a way that is far more personal than many of his colleagues.
"What I want to do is be here for my district; I want to make sure that I'm available, that I listen to people and that I act on what they tell me," McNerney said.
But now, 59-year-old McNerney is facing a stiff challenge from Republican David Harmer, a former corporate lawyer who also sees himself as a voice of the people.
"You don't have to look far to see that the country is on the wrong track," Harmer said. "If you're fed up, and I think most of us are, then it's time to vote for a challenger."
McNerney is a strong proponent of bringing new jobs to his district, especially in the green energy sector. He also voted for President Barack Obama's stimulus package.
"We need to be very cautious, but we also need to understand what is going to be helpful for our economy," McNerney said. "We need to make sure we give tax breaks to businesses so they can prosper and have the right environment for businesses to do well in our community, especially."
Though he once worked for JPMorgan Chase, 48-year-old Harmer believes the bailouts and the stimulus were huge mistakes.
"President Reagan taught us that if we really want to see the economy boom, what we need to do is have low taxes, cost-effective regulation and then get the federal government out of the way and let the entrepreneurial spirits of the American people take over and it will," Harmer said.
On healthcare, McNerney voted for and still supports the Obama package.
"Healthcare, when you need it, is a very personal issue; if your child has cancer and you have to lose your job because you can't get health insurance, that's personal," McNerney said.
Harmer would repeal "Obamacare" and encourage national competition.
"Right now, we don't have a national health insurance market, we have 50 balkanized state markets," Harmer said. "Congress could, with a very simple 10-page bill, not 2 or 3,000 pages, open the health insurance market to national competition."
As for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, McNerney believes the country is already on the right path.
"I'd like to see the progress we're making in Iraq continue," McNerney said. "Afghanistan is a difficult war, it's a difficult environment; we need to look very carefully at the policies that are in place and evaluate them frequently."
"I think we admit we're not going to turn Afghanistan into a version of us and we don't try, it's futile," Harmer said. "But we do leave a force there that is sufficient to assure the hostile elements can't use it as a base for training camps or terrorist operations."
One thing both men can agree on is they know their futures rest largely in the hands of undecided voters in a race that polls show is too close to call.