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Calif. Special Election: Democrat Comes Up (Just) Short

College professor Francine Busby (D) dominated the special open primary in California's 50th district yesterday but was unable to win a simple majority of the vote to avoid a June 6 runoff.

Brian Bilbray
Former Rep. Brian Bilbray, left, talks with Rep. Darrell Issa while waiting for election results Tuesday night. By forcing a run-off, Republicans could keep this seat in their column. (AP)

Busby won 44 percent of the vote, nearly 30 points better than the highest Republican vote-getter -- former Rep. Brian Bilbray -- who took 15 percent. Wealthy businessman Eric Roach (R) took 14 percent; none of the other 15 candidates were able to crack double digits. Roughly 10,000 provisional and absentee ballots remain to be counted, so the possibility that Roach could overtake Bilbray still remains as the margin separating the two men is just 886 votes.

If the results hold, Busby and Bilbray, along with independent William Griffith and Libertarian Paul King, advance to a June 6 runoff, which will take place on the same day as the primary for the November general election. (One potential benefit for Busby in the runoff will be the hotly contested Democratic gubernatorial primary between state Treasurer Phil Angelides and state Controller Steve Westly, which should help to drive Democratic turnout statewide.)

Interpreting Busby's showing is difficult. On one hand, she did not get to the 50 percent mark that would have delivered her the seat outright; on the other, she overperformed both her 2004 results against ex-Republican Rep. Duke Cunningham (36 percent) and internal Democratic polling that showed her topping out in the mid to upper 30s.

Francine Busby
Democrat Francine Busby greets a supporter Tuesday night as she enters her post election party. Her path to Congress is now a little more difficult. (AP)

The conventional wisdom, with which we happen to agree, is that Busby will be hard-pressed to defeat Bilbray, a moderate Republican during his time in Congress, in a one-on-one contest. But some Democrats argue that Bilbray is the Republican that offers the best contrast with Busby and her image as a political outsider.

Bilbray served in Congress from 1994 to 2000 when he was defeated by Rep. Susan Davis (D). He has served as a lobbyist since that defeat. Direct-mail pieces sent during the primary sought to link Bilbray to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"My message wasn't about Democrats," Busby told the San Diego Union Tribune last night. "It was about all of us really trying to change the way Washington works. Stop the pay-to-play system and the corruption that we all experienced, unfortunately, with Cunningham. And I think that's what Americans want."

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 12, 2006; 12:18 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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Next: Ohio: Parties Battle It Out Early in the 6th District


The lobbyist wife of a Democrat, (like Daschel) has the experience in the FAA during the Clinton years as well. Her millions comes from Boeing. We all remember the Boeing corruption deal with Darlene Druryn (however her last name is written, currently sits in prison) She did work under the Clinton Adm, and she was carried over through bureaucracy at the Pentagon for the new president, and she used her post to help her family members get jobs and contracts. So I am using Linda Daschel as an example since her darling hubby Tom is considering a run in 2008. Would their finanical records be made public like all other candidates? Tom was running for president in early 2003, and that financial record shoved him off the cliff for 2004. Now, will Linda be exposed for her deal making and is that what you Dems want in a First Lady for 2008? When the Dems try to attack Bilbray for being a lobbyist, I am using Linda as an example of what the Dems put up with when it is one of their one. The Democrat party is putting up with it, and that is the real problem if you all are ranting and raving for lobbyist reform. The Dems who are lobbyists will lose a lot of their clout. That is the point, and I don't believe the voters will hold Bilbray as a scapegoat for Cunningham. Bilbray will win the seat.

Posted by: Tammy | April 18, 2006 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Time for a 3rd party, but too many "don't want to waste my vote" people who keep wasting it on politicians who all come from the same mode.

Posted by: Chuck | April 13, 2006 11:59 AM | Report abuse

A politician who is married or related to a lobbyist is a far cry from one who actually has lobbying experience. That said, it's true that lobbying is an extremely important part of our political process. Most members of Congress have experience doing one thing - being politicians. While they have staff to help them do research, it's important for knowledgable outsiders to help inform them about important issues.

Also, I don't believe I've heard anything about Linda Daschle being involved in any pay for play scandals. Why shouldn't she be able to earn money for her expertise like anybody else?

Posted by: samburn85 | April 12, 2006 7:41 PM | Report abuse

Jeff you are right in the bigger picture -

I generally do not have a problem with lobbyists - sometimes through the group process they can give a voice to a group which might not otherwise be heard -

unfortunately right now what we have is the feeding bin feeding on itself - it is so broken - take the money out of it in terms of the influence peddling and let them be simply sources of information and lets see how well it works

Bobby WC

Posted by: Bobby Wightman-Cervantes | April 12, 2006 4:25 PM | Report abuse

>>>While I see Chris' point - 56% of the people did not vote democrat - therefore it is reasonable to believe this is still a Republican seat - I do believe things will change in the June race

>>> It should be Bilbray and it won't even be close

Agreed Bobby.

And what Cilliza and VivaBush04 are ignoring, on purpose no doubt, is that there many Republicans in that ditrict are going to sit out this election in protest of Duke's actions.

This election is being hailed as a bell-weather, and the neocons are trying to spin this into a positive. Truth is that voters everywhere are showing that they are simply tired of being taken for a ride.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | April 12, 2006 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I can understand that. I wrote that in response Bobby-Wright's post. I'm a former Hill staffer and all our dealings with lobbyists were professional and informative. We were given detailed information that we either would not have had or would have needed to devote significant time to research and present to the Congressman. Insights on how legislation will affect a certain industry, group of people, etc... are invaluable in the decision making process

I would just say this about Bilbray's situation...put yourself in his spot. You're a lobbyist that has always been on the up and up but has a connection to someone whose shady dealings you didn't know about at the time. I would distance myself's just good politics. I think there were a lot of people he delt with in the beltway that didn't know about all his dealings.

I'm not saying he's necessarily on the complete up and up, but hindsight is always 20/20, and if he is clean, then he should be distancing himself from the less-than-pure

Posted by: Jeff | April 12, 2006 4:23 PM | Report abuse

I am available for birthday parties too!

Please note that this is based on conventional wisdom. Not living in San Diego area, I have no idea how this will turn. If even higher Dem and Indy turnout occurs or a depressed GOP turnout because of scandal and Dem primary excitement, the numbers could shift towards Busby.

Also, if the other R candidates do not drop from their primary, it cvould cause confusion and further R on R attacks that could hurt Bilbray (or Roach).

These are highly fluid and volatile variables unaccounted for in mathmatics and CW.

Posted by: RMill | April 12, 2006 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Also, my understanding is Brian Bilbray has connections with Jack Abramoff, too so maybe that explains why he is shying away from the issue.

Posted by: Jason | April 12, 2006 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Jeff, you may be right, but Brian Bilbray himself doesn't agree with you since he won't admit to being a lobbyist. I think lobbying is okay, but pretending you're not one when you are or hiding from it is wrong and that is what Brian Bilbray is doing.

Posted by: Jason | April 12, 2006 4:04 PM | Report abuse

When I run you will be my pollster. I like your math.
And thank you for vindicating my earlier prediction. It should be Bilbray and it won't even be close.

Posted by: vivabush04OH | April 12, 2006 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I would point out, however, that lobbyists play an important role in public policy. The pay-for-play is obviously wrong, but lobbyists often have specialized knowledge about an industry or issue that most Congressman don't have. Contrary to public opinion, most Reps. (and their staffs I might add) do not know many of the nitty-gritty details of a particular issue. Lobbyists on both sides of an issue disseminate information that leads to better policy decisions. The excesses of Abramoff are without a doubt horrific, but to pigeonhole an industry because of a few bad seeds is wrong.

Bilbray's time as a lobbyist may well have been because he felt passionate about an issue and wanted to help educate his former colleagues about the importance of it.

Posted by: Jeff | April 12, 2006 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Pure speculation based on available data and years of experience:

Of the district's 353,000 registered voters, 157,000 are Republicans, 105,000 are Democrats and 76,000 are independents.

You can see that turnout was below 40%.

Independents are the least likely group to turn out in special and primary elections. I would guess that this group is still largely a wild card in the run-off. Dems turnout (70-80%) is usually 10-15 points behind Republican turnout (85-90%), traditionaly. About half that in special elections.

With 33% Dem registration, Busby outperformed registration by 11 points, largely because of independent voter influence. That may also indicate some healthy Republican crossover.

I would surmise that Busby got about 47,000 or so Dem votes. About 62,000 Rep voters split between the 14 GOP candidates.

That leaves maybe 26,000 Independent voters unaccounted for. Busby ended up with over 57,000 votes which must have been crossover R's (not likely but possible) or I's. That is about 40% of Independent voters in the special election.

It also indicates a stronger than expected Dem turnout (about +5,000 or 12% increase from norms). If that trend holds up in the primary, where they average about 40-42% turnout, based on historical SD county turnout rates (45% with increased Dem turnout indicated), Busby is looking at 72,000 votes in June and Bilbray at 88,000. This is conventional wisdom calculations.

Posted by: RMill | April 12, 2006 3:38 PM | Report abuse

A couple of observations here.
What percent of registered voters actually turned out? My guess would be less than 40% and that is high for a special election but understandable for so many candidates working on GOTV.

All along I have been hearing from the Dems that this is their year, that voters are fed up with corruption, the war, the economy, Iran, Sudan, Cheney,Bush, you name it, we're getting thrown out. HAd Busby won well, it's a national referendum. She doesn't win and the voters are brain-dead and corupt themselves and of course that is redundant since most of them are Republicans anyway.

Whether it's Bilbray or Roach, the GOP should win the run-off and the seat in November. Wait til there's a higher turnout in June as well as November.
If tou remember Scmidt and Hackett in OH2 last August, HAckett came close but still lost. Point is, there aren't enough Dems in these districts to pull it off. I predict the same will hold true for OH18 with or without Ney running. Seemingly these are the kind of districts the Dems need to win back the House. Believe me, there are tougher seats than this that they will have to win and I doubt they do.

I would say that while the voters may be down on Bush and the GOP, there is no Dem (Reid? Pelosi?) that inspires the masses, even among Dem voters. That should explain why this may not be the Dem tidalwave that Dean and the left are projecting.

Posted by: vivabush04OH | April 12, 2006 3:21 PM | Report abuse


Once again you present the argument that because the Dems are doing it, it must be okay - it is not okay - the proof will be in the pudding in how we vote as a country-

As a democrat I will not vote for any democrat who has a family member working on K Street - simple as that -

Hopefully America will follow and say - we have had it with he lobbyist and will vote against anyone with ties to lobbyists.

Tammy wrong does not become right because your enemy is also engaged in wrongdoing.

Bobby Wightman-Cervantes

Posted by: Bobby Wightman-Cervantes | April 12, 2006 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Andy R

Sorry but recheck your math.

With the 10,000 or so provisional and absentee ballots, 137,841 votes will have been cast. To avoid the runoff, winner would need to claim 68,921 votes to break 50%. Even if Busby got all 10,000, she would be 1,000 votes short.

Posted by: RMill | April 12, 2006 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Being a registered Republican means you vote party line, and I accept it. The Dems walk in lock step but few people point that out in chat room talks.

The Dem got 44%, so that leaves about 55% of the Republicans getting the votes among the other GOP names. (I am giving 1% to Libertarian and the 4th party candidate).
So it comes down to numbers, do the GOP vote in June to keep the seat or not? That is the simple question. If Lobbyists are so bad, who come Tom Daschel's wife still have her job making millions? There are many spouses married to Dem's who are lobbyists. So if it is so bad, they better quit. Otherwise, these Dems who are lobbyists make the entire party look like hypocrites. It sounds more like conflict of interest, so the Dems better clean up their own house regarding lobbyists who are married to Dem politicans.

Posted by: Tammy | April 12, 2006 2:53 PM | Report abuse

My reading of the American people is - we are tired of the lobbyist - it seems to me Bilbray being a lobbyist is not an asset in this election.

While I see Chris' point - 56% of the people did not vote democrat - therefore it is reasonable to believe this is still a Republican seat - I do believe things will change in the June race - the anti-lobbyist Republicans may not vote Democrat but then they may vote Libertarian thereby giving Busby the victory

Bobby Wighhtman-Cervantes

Posted by: Bobby Wightman-Cervantes | April 12, 2006 2:50 PM | Report abuse

also this year polls show most independents wouldn't be caught dead voting for the GOP, so don't count on an even split. you're down 20 points.

Posted by: Will in Seattle | April 12, 2006 2:42 PM | Report abuse

In the end, it will depend on General Election Day turnout, and the GOP won't be doing very well getting their voters to vote for their candidates this year. People are just tired of the incompetence and the lies.

Posted by: Will in Seattle | April 12, 2006 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Brian Bilbray did have a moderate record in his prior representation in Congress, but he represented a swing district with a lot of liberal and moderate voters. I believe he is personally much more conservative but had voted according to that district. This district is more conservative. Look for his voting record to be much more conservative if he gets elected to this district. Personally, I hope Francine Busby wins as she is an excellent candidate who would bring integrity to that district's representation.

Posted by: Jason | April 12, 2006 2:35 PM | Report abuse

What I wonder is how many Rebuplicans just won't vote for Bilray? I don't buy the argument that just because he is a GOPer that the Republicans will vote for him. They might just stay home. Take that with a strong democratic showing for the Governor's race and I think she has a good chance of pulling it off.
Not to mention what if the republicans get into a fighting match over who really won? Then Busby wins in a walk.

Not to mention if 7,000 or so of those absentee ballots are for Busby she wins! (its a pipe dream I know but one can dream)

Posted by: Andy R | April 12, 2006 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Judge Crater: Tammy's a parrot that types. No more, no less.

This seat represents a very clear choice about who we choose to represent us. Busby is a college professor with a clean background. Bilbray is a lobbyist who has used his political career to rake in personal cash by representing reprehenisble and corrupt organizations.

If Republicans are so partisan that they are willing to knowingly elect a cheap sleazy crook, then we really do deserve the sewer that Congress has become.

Posted by: Drindl | April 12, 2006 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Some interesting info on Bilbray's lobbying activities:

In 2004, Bilbray reported earning at least $200,000 from three clients – the Federation for American Immigration Reform, often known as FAIR; the San Diego Regional Airport Authority; and the Viejas Band of Kumyaay Indians. He earned an undisclosed amount listed as “less than $10,000” from a fourth client, Conquer Cancer & Alzheimer's Now.

In the past, he has also represented Los Angeles County, San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and Benedetto Advocacy & Communications, which has worked on the Bajagua border-sewage treatment project.

One of Bilbray's most lucrative clients has been FAIR, a group that fights illegal immigration, much as Bilbray did while a congressman. Bilbray represented the organization on the issues of drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants, amnesty proposals and reimbursing hospitals for the costs of treating illegal immigrants.

From May 2002, when he started lobbying for FAIR, until July 2005, the last month for which lobbying reports were available, Bilbray earned almost $300,000 from FAIR. He stopped working for the group in December, about the time he announced his candidacy, said Paul Egan, FAIR director of government relations.

“It was something I believed in, and not just because someone was paying me,” Bilbray said of lobbying for FAIR. He said he lobbied for the Bajagua project for the same reason.

With Bajagua, Bilbray earned about $35,000 in 2001 to lobby the White House and State Department. In December 2001, when Bilbray testified before a House committee on the Bajagua border-sewage plan, he did not identify himself as a company lobbyist, but as the ex-lawmaker who wrote the bill paving the way for Bajagua to get the contract. Bilbray recently told The San Diego Union-Tribune that he didn't think his ties to Bajagua were relevant to mention because he had been asked to testify as the bill's author.

The Hill, a Capitol-area newspaper, reported last summer that several sources, including one GOP lawmaker, complained that Bilbray used his floor privileges as an ex-member to lobby in the House chamber. Bilbray denied the allegation. “I've never done that. That's not right,” he said.

Several Washington scandals, including Cunningham's, have focused new attention on relationships between those in Congress and the people hired to influence their votes. The most high-profile lobbying corruption case of late involves Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to defrauding his clients and conspiring to bribe members of Congress.

Bilbray was also among those who benefited from trips that Abramoff arranged for members of Congress, once accepting an Abramoff trip to the Pacific Islands.

Bilbray said he knew Abramoff through a surfing buddy, and that the relationship was “very tenuous.”

Some find it notable that Bilbray has listed himself on voter registration documents as an “immigration reform advocate,” rather than a lobbyist. In an agreement with the California Secretary of State's office, Bilbray switched the designation to “immigration reform consultant.”

“I do feel that if you're a lobbyist, that's what you say you are,” said Nikki Symington, a publicist who spent more than a decade representing various Indian tribes. “But who's going to say they're a lobbyist running for Cunningham's seat?”

full story-

Posted by: RMill | April 12, 2006 2:05 PM | Report abuse


Dem/GOP split is not 50/50. See my above post:

Dem. reg. 33%
Rep. rep 44%
Ind. reg. 23%

Posted by: RMill | April 12, 2006 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Okay, call me silly, but if the Dem candidate in the runoff is almost 30 points higher in the primary than the GOP challenger, and if the the Dem/GOP split is 50/50, how is the Conventional Wisdom that the GOP retains their seat? Since you say that you agree with that CW Mr. Cillizza, would you care to at least explain your rationale for supporting it?

Posted by: scootmandubious | April 12, 2006 1:46 PM | Report abuse


California has used a unified primary ballot -- that is, a single primary ballot that contained all candidates from all parties -- in all special elections since 1967.

In all those elections, the top vote-getter from each party advances to the November election.

That is why the Top Liberatarian (King)and Independent (Griffith) candidates advanced along with the top Democratic candidate (Busby) and top Republican candidate (presumed Bilray if Roach does not gain in the count of 10,000 absentee and provisional votes).

Posted by: RMill | April 12, 2006 1:34 PM | Report abuse

If the information in the article above is accurate, this is a wacky election law.

"Nobody getting a majority" causing a run off makes sense.

But to extend the participants in the next election beyond the top two does not make sense. What if nobody gets a majority in that instance? Another runoff?

Also, the names provided above show that the next election will be between the #1, #2, #11 and #13 vote getters. #'s 11 and 13 get into the runoff, but not the others?

Somebody in California, please tell me that that's not right. Because, that's not right!

Posted by: Befuddled | April 12, 2006 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Busby got 30 POINTS more than Bilbray, not 30 PERCENT more. Thirty percent more than 15% would be 19.5%. This is a recurrent pet peeve of mine.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | April 12, 2006 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Declared Registration in Cal-50 is:

Dems 33%
Rep 44%
Ind 23%

Busby lost to incumbant Cunningham 58%-37% with 3 independant candidates (Green, Liberatarian and American Indepedence parties) getting about 5% total.

Now, only two other candidates and no incumbant.

This was also in a full general election, so a primary will have more drop-off in total number of votes. A stronger Dem turnout for the governor's primary could boost the numbers for Busby. Also, Bilbray being a "lobbyist" will provide perfect fodder in the wake of Cunningham and Abramoff scandals.

It will also be interesting to see if Bilbray wins the primary while also campaigning in the run-off. Busby will undoubtedly win the Dem primary for the seat. I suspect some but not all Republican candidates who ran and lost in the special election will now throw their support to Bilbray but Roach may continue to campaign and cause prolems for Bilbray that could affect his run-off numbers.

Posted by: RMill | April 12, 2006 12:53 PM | Report abuse


I agree with you. The republicans will unite.

Posted by: Karen | April 12, 2006 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Tammy: I'm confused since in yesterday's blog we learned that the Republicans have already started slinging mud. Can you point to an equivalent activity on Busby's part? A related question: are you capable of independent thought?

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | April 12, 2006 12:40 PM | Report abuse

The Republicans will vote for Bilbray, and he picks up his seniority from the 1994 to 2000 years, which is an advantage compared to the "new kid on the block" status if Busby won. The moderate middle will also lean toward Bilbray, and he has a record of what he accomplished when in Congress during his 3 terms. My money is on Bilbray for Congress to win in June, unless of course, the Dems decide to sling mud and make themselves look like little angels.

Posted by: Tammy | April 12, 2006 12:36 PM | Report abuse

If we total all the Democrats, and all the Republicans we see a virtual tie. For a Repub. district that is GOP bad news.

Bilbray being a Lobbyist in the middle of lobbyist scandal is Deom good news.

A tight election is great news for the local TV stations and bad news for the viewers as a zillion dollars will be spent by both parties in the next seven weeks.

Meanwhile there is a separate election simultaeneously for the two year term for this seat effective in Jan.

Complicated and expensive!

Posted by: Peter L. | April 12, 2006 12:36 PM | Report abuse

my biggest worry is that Busby would get 44%, ironically enough. this result tells us's more tea leaves and i wanted answers to the burning questions!
Is the GOP on the way out?
or are the Dems only dreaming?
the california result muddles the pic.

Posted by: jay lassiter | April 12, 2006 12:34 PM | Report abuse

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