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California's 50th: Center Stage in Battle for the House

Eight states hold primary elections next Tuesday, but no single race is being as closely watched or carries as much potential significance for the midterm congressional elections as the special election in California's 50th District.

With just five days left until voters cast their ballots, both sides agree that the race is a dead heat between Democrat Francine Busby and Republican Brian Bilbray. Perhaps more telling, neither side is willing to make a prediction about the eventual winner.

Republicans clearly have more to lose in what should be a relatively safe seat for them (President Bush carried the district by 11 points in 2004). Should Bilbray fall on Tuesday, it will be seen as a sign of larger electoral problems facing the party in the fall.

Special election are not always predictive of how the next general election will play out. Democrats won specials in South Dakota and Kentucky in 2004 but went on to lose seats that November.

But special elections often do signal a sentiment for change within the electorate. Witness 1994. On May 10 of that year, Frank Lucas (R) won a special election in Oklahoma to claim a seat Democrats had held for the two previous decades. Two weeks later in Kentucky, Ron Lewis (R) won a special for the House seat held for 20 terms by William Natcher (D), who had passed away earlier in the year. Those two victories in longtime Democratic strongholds presaged the Republican tidal wave in November that saw the GOP pick up 52 House seats, securing a majority in that chamber for the first time in 40 years.

Given that historical backdrop, it's no surprise that the National Republican Congressional Committee is on pace to spend $4.5 million (give or take a few hundred thousand) in its effort to elect Bilbray -- far more than the party committee spent on either the South Dakota or Kentucky special elections last cycle. The increased spending is due in part to the costliness of the San Diego media market, which dominates the 50th District, but it should also indicate the import that Republicans have placed on holding the seat.

Democrat Francine Busby
Can Democratic candidate Francine Busby capture the reliably Republican 50th in next week's special election? (AP)

Since Busby and Bilbray emerged from the April 11 open primary, Republicans have relentlessly attacked the Democrat on taxes and, more importantly, immigration -- the most important issue to voters in the district, both sides agree.

The two latest NRCC ads hit on each theme. In one, a narrator alleges that Busby "doesn't want you to know she supports a plan that's been called amnesty for illegal immigrants" and opposes making English the official language. In the other, Busby is cast as being in favor of raising the gas tax and in opposition to making the Bush tax cuts permanent.

Tellingly, the president's name is never actually mentioned in the latter anti-Busby ad. Since earlier this spring, there has been considerable erosion among voters in the district when it comes to Bush's job approval rating and their view of the direction the country is currently headed -- strong majorities now disapprove of Bush and believe the country is off on the wrong track. That drop off suggests a toxic atmosphere in the district for any Republican candidate; it's that headwind that worries Republicans most when they talk about the race next Tuesday.

Privately, Republicans also acknowledge that Bilbray is not the ideal candidate to be running in a special election to replace Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R). Cunningham resigned last fall after it came to light that he had accepted millions in bribes from a defense contractor in exchange for preferential treatment in Congress. While Bilbray has none of that baggage, he is a former member of Congress (he held California's 49th District from 1994 to 2000) and a registered lobbyist.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has bashed Bilbray over his lobbyist background, linking him to Cunningham at every turn. The tagline of several DCCC-sponsored ads says it all: "Such a good friend to lobbyists, [Bilbray] became one himself."

Republican Brian Bilbray
A victory for former Rep. Brian Bilbray would boost faltering GOP morale. (AP)

A further complication for Republicans is the candidacy of wealthy real estate investor Bill Hauf. Hauf, who took just 1.6 percent of the vote in the April 11 open primary, is challenging Bilbray for the Republican nomination for a full term and has donated nearly $650,000 of his own money to that effort in the past few weeks alone (money spent in part on a direct-mail attack calling Bilbray a liberal who "stood with Bill and Hillary Clinton). Voters will not be able to vote for Hauf in the special election, but his presence on the same ballot has the potential to peel away conservative support from Bilbray in the special election. Busby is not being challenged Tuesday for her party's nomination in the fall.

Expectations setting in advance of Tuesday's primary is well under way. Republicans say the national atmosphere and a competitive Democratic gubernatorial primary in California make the 50th special election an uphill battle for them despite the district's historical GOP ties. Democrats, meanwhile, insist that if Busby even comes within a few points of victory, it should be seen as a sign that voters across the country are ready for a change in House leadership.

Tuesday's results in the 50th will be a major morale booster for one of the two parties and could help Democrats build momentum for a big fall or reenergize Republicans intent on defending their control of Congress. Stay tuned.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 1, 2006; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  House  
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Next: California 50th Update: Will Immigration Issue Divide GOP Vote?


Next Tuesday, Nova Scotians go to the polls in a provincial election to vote for their legislature and premier. Nova Scotia has more people than AK, DE, MT, ND, SD, VT, or WY. And is much closer to Washington than CA.

The NDP has 29 per cent of decided voters, according to a Corporate Research Associates survey released in March. The Progressive Conservatives lead with 36 per cent, while the Liberals trail the New Democrats slightly at 27 per cent.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | June 5, 2006 10:02 AM | Report abuse

This message is for everyone - our country is facing some very difficult times at present, "partly" because of our own mistakes. We have immigration, high gas prices, corporate and political corruption on the domestic front and the mess created by the bush administration in Iraq, it now appears with the killings of civilians - including women & children ;that it's going to get even worse; and that's without mentioning Iran, North Korea, or the Middle east conflict, I like to see all of this brain power unite for some ideas - solutions to these problems, At this point the bush administration needs all the help it can get and you guys seem to be a lot smarter than they are . How about it!

Posted by: TY HINES | June 2, 2006 5:33 PM | Report abuse

"But dems have their own problems...I think this strategy will be ineffective nationally, therefore making this election strictly a local event. "

FH-This was the same case in 1994. There were two prominent Republican Senators at the time, Bob Packwood and Dave Durenberger who were both pressured to resign because of scandal in 1994. Yet the Republicans were still able to use the corruption issue.

Posted by: Jack | June 2, 2006 12:00 AM | Report abuse

"But dems have their own problems...I think this strategy will be ineffective nationally, therefore making this election strictly a local event. "

FH-This was the same case in 1994. There were two prominent Republican Senators at the time, Bob Packwood and Dave Durenberger who were both pressured to resign because of scandal in 1994. Yet the Republicans were still able to use the corruption issue.

Posted by: Jack | June 2, 2006 12:00 AM | Report abuse

I just read all the comments for this post from beginning to end. It was interesting how the mood has changed in the past 5 months. 5 months ago all the big talk was dems could take back the senate. Now, people are starting to think that dems have a better chance of taking back the house. If you had said this 5 months ago people would of laughed at you, now you say it and a republican breaks out in a cold sweat.

I would like to point out that the reason republicans gained a couple of seats in the House in 2004 was because of gerrymandering of Texas districts. And, where is mastermind behind that underhanded scheme - Oh yeah, Rep. Tom Delay who was forced to resign for his crooked actions. So is 2004 really a win for Republicans if you cheated and got caught ? Not, if Tom Delay gets raped in jail.

Posted by: Wells | June 1, 2006 9:13 PM | Report abuse

But those polls don't offer any alternative. I don't approve of the job congress is doing or that bush is doing, but that doesn't mean I wish John Kerry was in there instead. the conclusion must be : If more of our guys were in congress, they would do a better job.
where did you get the idea that the economy is not booming?

Posted by: king of zouk | June 1, 2006 5:13 PM | Report abuse

RMill: Thanks again, you can always be counted on for numbers.

You wouldn't happen to have a breakdown of aproval by house of congress would you?

Posted by: Dan W | June 1, 2006 4:41 PM | Report abuse

I have been active in Democratic politics in Ohio and nationally for 16 years (as a paid professional for some of those years). From what I have seen, you may be right that the House more resembles the mood of the Republicans, and that, in my opinion, is what is putting their control of the House at risk.

I do not agree that Independents are of this mind set.

If we are talking specifically and only on the immigration issue, I think that may be harder to discern right now. In that specific case, at this point in time, you may be right. But the national debate on the specifics of immigration policy for the United States has not yet been fully vetted. Once it is, I think the question will not be are immigrants taking jobs away from American citizens but the failure of the Bush administrations economic policies.

Before 9/11, this would have been a fierce topic of debate with some resonance in the electorate. The economy was miserably failing before 9/11 and Iraq. It is not much better now, especially in the Great Lakes states, which accounted for the entire 1 million jobs lost (net) during Bush's first term.

And like it or not, the growing political power of immigrant groups, especially hispanics, is having a greater impact on electoral politics.

Independents are turning sour on the Bush administration and the Republican Congress in numbers rivaling those of the self-identified Democrats.

Although, the numbers for Republicans are not that encouraging either:
CBS Poll
May 16-17
"Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?"

.........Approve Disapprove Unsure
ALL adults...26.... 59..... 15
Republicans..27.....62..... 11
Democrats ...26.....59..... 15
Independents.25.....57..... 18

"Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?"

.........Approve Disapprove Unsure
ALL adults.. 35... 60...... 5
Republicans. 74... 24...... 2
Democrats ....6... 89...... 5
Independents 26... 66...... 8

Posted by: RMill | June 1, 2006 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I actually live in the 50th and am active in the Republican Party. The only reason this race is close is because too many conservatives ran and cut up the vote, letting Bilbray (the national RP's candidate) squeak out a 1% victory over the closest of 6 conservative opponents. If Bilbray wins, it will only be because enough Republicans are unwilling to let the seat go Democratic, regardless of how little they think of the Republican candidate.

Posted by: Gary Duerst | June 1, 2006 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I think the house would be wise to set this up. Regardless if they pass a law or not, they will have the recorded vote to campaign on. you can go back to your district and say, you tried and if you get sent back you will try again. your opponent will not do that. challengers can promise to vote this way or that depending on the winds. this all depends on what the folks at home think of course. the polls I have seen indicate that the mood seems to be to get pretty tough. that may be hard for a Dem to say and would draw a bright line for voters. since most Senators are not up, they won't care much. Immigration may be another of those single issue things that brings people out of the woodwork and gets them to pay attention. I suppose it will be a district by district thing, which sounds promising for our democracy anyway.

Posted by: king of zouk | June 1, 2006 3:36 PM | Report abuse

RMill, My opinion is the house bill more closely resembles the mood of the Rep party and Independents at large.

What's your take?

This question goes out to all the experience political operatives out there. Please state if you consider yourself an experienced political operative. For the record, I am not one.

And yes, I think it is worth knowing.

Posted by: Dan W | June 1, 2006 3:24 PM | Report abuse

It is more likely that the reverse will happen. The House is more in danger of switching party control than the Senate and Bush isn't going anywhere for a couple years. The House, setting up a clash within its own ranks when they are vulnerable would be political suicide.

Since the Senate and the President are more aligned in policy, especially with respect to immigration, I do not see this strategy as a likely scenario.

Posted by: RMill | June 1, 2006 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Andy R: The house doesn't need to have the illegal immigration bill resolved in order to win. Reps in the house get to say "We are listening to you and what you want, they are the propblem."

The senators get to say, "Look we are protecting the business interests of our constituents (IE contributors)"

The way I see this play out, if the strategy works for the House, it will cost the Senate Repubs seats.

I see no problem letting this issue be resolved by the next congress. Let the people speak and legislate accordingly.

This is such an important issue that I want congress to take their time and finally get it right.

Posted by: Dan W | June 1, 2006 3:08 PM | Report abuse

You compared a jailed "incumbant" to another. I think this is appropriate. but expanding this to the general population was what I was cautioning you on.

Posted by: king of zouk | June 1, 2006 2:51 PM | Report abuse

"I wouldn't extrapolate a result from an election where the previous member is now in jail."

Why not? My hindsight-enhanced extrapolation from Herseth's race to succeed Janklow proved to be right on the mark.

Posted by: Brittain33 | June 1, 2006 2:46 PM | Report abuse

KOZ I agree that it seems the house is setting themselves up for a showdown with the President and the Senate. The thing is that the Senate is pretty firm on this issue as is the President. I don't see how they can possibly work out a compromise in the next six months. I think the Republicans have set up immigration as their key succes for the 06 elections.
There are two problems that I see with this strategy. First as ya'll have pointed out the GOP is seriously divided on this issue. So either way they go is going to upset alot of people.
Secondly, there are alot of people in the country who don't really care, or see it as a minor problem. What do you say to folks in the mountains of North Carolina whose kids are in Iraq fighting with no idea when they are coming home? "Well I see, but we fixed immigration"

PS Neither of these proposals are going to do a darn thing to "fix" illegal immigration. As long as America rocks people will want to come here.

Posted by: Andy R | June 1, 2006 2:41 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't extrapolate a result from an election where the previous member is now in jail. this may be a local vindication only - or not. reading tea leaves is not always a good predictor of the future. I know the talking heads will analyze the exact level of defeat but again, does this generalize to the entire population? I guess if you can chant it on cable often enough, it might. but what level is the key - 2%, 5%, 8%, 10%. how do you tell? I am not one who subscribes to the notion that you can lose but if it is only by a little it doesn't count. It still counts. In statistics, levels of significance are industry specific, that is psychology is happy with 95%, medicine requires 99%. what is the level in politics? For you non math normal people - significance measures whether the result was due to pure random processes or whether there is a measurable effect underlying the measurement. I would love to see some stats on elections.

Posted by: king of zouk | June 1, 2006 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't need to be unforgable, it needs to be a national SocSec database. Let the IRS actually do the job they are supposed to do.

When a SocSec number shows up that isn't in the database, do something about it.

My first return after my Daughters were born was a problem. I wrote the wrong number on the form and they said it wasn't my child. So they already can correlate a valid number to another number.

Every employer reports payments to the IRS every month. When strange numbers come in, the employer should get notified that they have an invalid number. The whole thing can be automated.

Every person entitled to work in the US is already in the IRS database. All they have to do is match monthly reports filed with valid numbers, generate an automatic response and flag it for attention so the person can't just keep submitting new numbers. Mom and Pop electronics has 60 days to correct the problem (get a valid number or terminate the employee). Mom and Pop start getting too many bad numbers and they get audited.

Posted by: Dan W | June 1, 2006 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Cal Gal, most of the population lives inland near Escondido, not on the coast. The coastal communities are relatively small.

Between San Diego and Long Beach, the California coast has some of the most solidly Republican Congressional districts in the country. Issa, Campbell, Rohrabacher... none of these districts is remotely competitive for a Democrat.

Then again, neither did this district used to be.

Posted by: Brittain33 | June 1, 2006 2:30 PM | Report abuse

SD-AL in 2004 was a good predictor of the outcome of the 2004 elections.

Herseth was very popular and widely considered a shoo-in to replace Janklow. Her opponent had low name recognition. Well, on election day, Herseth won, but it was much closer than predicted.

At the time, people said "Herseth won, good news for the Democrats." What I saw was that Herseth won, but lots of Republicans were still willing to get out and vote.

In the same sense, this race is a bellwether if Busby wins or loses, simply because she's way overperforming for a Democrat in this district. If she loses with 48% of the vote or more, it may be a tactical win for Republicans, but it still spells big trouble for them in November. They needed to put away Busby the way Campbell put away Steve Young in Orange County.

The fact that they can't, and this race is even close, speaks volumes about Republican prospects.

Posted by: Brittain33 | June 1, 2006 2:27 PM | Report abuse

"King of Zouk" wrote:..."SD is a military town and they will not put a Dem in the house."

Shows how much you know! SD has two Democrats in the House, both of whom have served multiple terms, and one of whom is on track to be elected again. He represents the 51st Distric, covering "...the southern half of the City of San Diego, the South Bay cities of Chula Vista and National City, the southern border of San Diego County, and all of Imperial County --and contains the entire California/ Mexico border." This area includes some of the most conservative voters in the region. The other Democrat represents the 53rd District. In the meantime, Brian Bilbray is trying to get re-elected to Congress in a "new" District [50th], after having been voted out in the 53rd [his original 'home' District] in favor of a Democrat. At the present time, investigators are trying to determine his true primary residence --- he claims three, one being in Northern Virginia, one in the 53rd District and one in the 50th [his mother's home].

Posted by: JS | June 1, 2006 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Colin, no one wants to march in lock-step to their doom. I think one aspect of this phenom which is being missed is that the low polls for Bush, especially in his base, is because he is not conservative enough. the Dems who think he is too conservative never voted for him anyway. And he will never be on the ticket again. but the idea of a veto proof majority is the solution to your quandry. and actually seemed to be the winning message in the Senate last time around when judges rose to the fore. the blocking and do-nothing goes both ways and one can blame it on the minority with just as much aplomb. ask Tom Daschle. but your view is certainly the conventional wisdom on this. time for some unconventional thinking in my humble opinion.

Posted by: king of zouk | June 1, 2006 2:23 PM | Report abuse

I am uncomfortable with that until an unforgable ID card can be instituted. Otherwise, Mom and Pop become the cops and have to learn to spot fakes. I heard that Puerto Rican birth certificates are all the rage right now. How would I know if it was fake?

but you bring up a good point. Do we need a new law or is there already one in place that is not being used. the stories about the negligence are starting to emerge.

Posted by: king of zouk | June 1, 2006 2:15 PM | Report abuse

We have a second home in the 50th, and although it has been "safe" for Republican'ts in the past, it is, remember, a California coastal district and the California coast in general is good ground for the Democrats.

I'd cast its Republican'ts as more of the libertarian, pro-business types who are getting so fed up with the big-spending Can'ts in Congress, and less of the gay-bashing fundamentalists the Can'ts have been relying on lately.

Immigration is certain to be a big issue, but this district is in the north part of San Diego County and not on the border. I would imagine there are lots of Republican'ts up there who employ immigrant labor for construction, landscaping, home help, etc.

And it's very pro-military, too, and probably prime McCain country, so his dissing of Bilbray could really, REALLY hurt.

Posted by: Cal Gal | June 1, 2006 2:15 PM | Report abuse

KOZ -- From an intellectual perspective, your strategy is actually quite interesting. LBJ actually had Senate Dems follow something of a mirror strategy in the 1950's in positioning Democrats as being more closely aligned with Eisenhower than Senate Republicans. In that case, the gambit worked and Senate Dems picked up Seats even while Ike remained hugely popular.

One question here though. Given public displeasure with the government generally, I would think watching Republicans feud internally while producing no actual solutions to the problems of the day could/would in fact make the Republican party look even worse. What Democrat wouldn't run on a platform noting that even with control of every branch of the government, Republicans have been unable to govern? I mean, that's already the message Dems are running on -- but it would be even easier to drive home if open rifts emerge in the Republican party.

Posted by: Colin | June 1, 2006 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Zouk: This is not truly an immigration bill but an Illegal immigration bill. If the Exec branch had been doing its job all along it wouldn't be necessary at all.

I agree with you that we need a bill that is truly a good compromise between the two bills. Perhaps one that really HAMMERS the companies that are knowingly hiring illegals; and I mean really hurt them.

Posted by: Dan W | June 1, 2006 2:11 PM | Report abuse

they actually have done this to a certain extent but have been stomped down by the worthless Senate. anwar drilling for example. Passed again and left out to dry. but Boehner is my man if he sticks by his "dead on arrival" promise. Even though I don't personally think we need an immigration bill that punative, I seem to be in the minority and am willing to go along on this one.

Posted by: king of zouk | June 1, 2006 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Better than appearing to be against the President is to start introducing legislation important to them and their constituents and let the President be against them. That way they have empirical evidence to back up claims that they are not just rubberstamps on the presidents projects. Nothing happens without money and the house controls the money.

The party is not the leadership. The party is the led. If the followers quit following and do their jobs, they would be amazed and the results.

Posted by: Dan W | June 1, 2006 1:56 PM | Report abuse

fitting since the House was always meant to be the knee-jerk reactionary part attached most closely to the people. I am somewhat dissappointed in the Senate these days. It seems Bill Frist has not turned out to be much of a leader. I think real conservatives need to send a message that we do not want Teddy Kennedy light (McCain) running things. November will be our chance if that option is opened up for us. If the House continues down the road of overall appeasement, then that message will not be on the table. If they turn and act strong, then the voters will get their chance to speak up, for better or worse. I am hearing from many house members that they are furious with Bush about ignoring thier issues.

Posted by: king of zouk | June 1, 2006 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Zouk: Interesting, the House is campaigning on the concept that there are 2 houses in congress each with different roles and ideas. The illegal immigration bill will determine how much will they have to go against the grain.

Creating a divide now will help further the cause in november.

Posted by: Dan W | June 1, 2006 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Sorry FH, but when someone uses the very old "Democrats Have No Ideas" Republican Talking Point to gloss over deep ethical problems within their own party, they need to be called on it.

I don't need to sit here and repeat what ideas Democrats have. If you are capable of accessing this blog, then you can easily find plenty of sources for Democratic candidates and the plans that they are bringing to the table. Yes, the partisan bickering has gotten ugly everywhere but honestly, who has set the tone? I would argue that it is the party that dismisses dissent and debate by tossing around labels like "unpatriotic" and "elitist".
If I really believed that Republicans cared more about the good of the nation than simply about winning at all costs then I wouldn't have left the party.

Posted by: Maria | June 1, 2006 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Got the idea from here:

the house runs against the President and Senate. In effect becoming the true Republican party and eshewing the mushy fake Rs in the Senate. they use the immigration issue to point out the differences. I would stick by them if they try to kill off McCain-Feingold. but my district is 100% safe Dem. so I don't really count. But I do contribute. I was a one issue voter in the last election but times have changed. I am sure this is true for many voters and the reason for the low poll numbers for Bush. His domestic policies have been a let-down for conservatives.

Posted by: king of zouk | June 1, 2006 1:28 PM | Report abuse

A victory by Busby not mattrer how small a margin would be a huge, huge sign of the coming wave in November. CA-50 has a 15% republican registration edge. 15%. That's a very, very big repub adavantage and almost none of the other 35 House seats where Dems have a shot at kicking out a repub incumbent are so overhelmingly republican. Most, in fact, are less than 5% more republican. If Democrats can pick up this seat, we can win anywhere.

Posted by: Ohio guy | June 1, 2006 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Well, shoot RMill, those were the thoughts I was going for. Apologize for my redundancy and thanks for your thoughtful analysis.

Posted by: swb | June 1, 2006 1:20 PM | Report abuse


Must disagree with your last sentence. This election is not a "local" event for several reasons.

First, whether its true or not, the media will proclaim the Busby victory as a bellwether election. It will shape the media storyline from now into August. Stories will trickle out about GOP House members running for cover, low morale, etc. More and more former neocons like Fukayama will come out on the Sunday morning circuit to discuss how the GOP has failed. Ultimately, it could have the effect of de-energizing the GOP base and suppressing voter turnout. Not a big deal in Mississippi, but a huge deal in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Missouri.

Next, the extraordinary cost of defending a formerly very safe seat is money that can't be funneled to other, more competitive races. Again, not a big deal in Utah, but a big deal to Charles Taylor in NC.

I agree that the Busby win will be overanalyzed and misinterpreted, and Lord knows the Dems could find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but there are very real national implications associated with this outcome.

Posted by: swb | June 1, 2006 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Zouk: What do you mean by throw over?

Posted by: Dan W | June 1, 2006 1:09 PM | Report abuse

And how is the elction going to affect the 2 republican parties. Will the GOP sit down after it loses (or barely wins) the election and finally realize how much trouble they are in?

Right now I am trying to figure out which Repubs belong to each of the Republican parties.

Posted by: Dan W | June 1, 2006 1:08 PM | Report abuse

What do you think of a Republican strategy which includes having the house throw over the Senate and President? those latter two branches seem to have lost thier way. Many house members are becoming increasingly frustrated at the tin ears of the Senate and executive branches.

Posted by: king of zouk | June 1, 2006 1:01 PM | Report abuse


I agree with your comment about the partisan bickering. It seems to have increased over the past few weeks and I find it difficult to engage in dialogue with all of it going on. We can have philosophical and ideological disagreements without resorting to all the name calling. There should be plenty of issues to discuss in a meaningful way.

I will disagree with you on the midterms becoming local events. This does not hinge on the scandal theme, which I have said for months is the wrong track for Dems to take.

The election is likely to still become a nationalized event, as asceeded to by Sens. McCain and Dole recently. The competition for scandal headlines will become more anti-incumbant rather than a Republican stigma but it will obviously hurt the reigning party more as the GOP has many more incumbant seats to defend, especially highly comptetive seats.

I think CA 50 has already shown some indications of the trouble that the GOP will have in November and will certainly be, as I have written several times over the ast few weeks, a more concrete test of the "mood" of the electorate than anything we have up to this point. Will it be thge smoking gun or the final word? No. But it is obvious that the GOP knows the spin value to the Dems if Busby wins. Republicans don't spend that kind of money for no reason. Losing CA 50 will put the entire GOP leadership on the defensive for the next 5 months and dampen their ability to raise funds effectively, whereas it will certainly be a boost to the efforts of Democrats, who are already surprisingly competitive and in many cases, out fundraising their Republican counterparts.

Both sides will spin this election out regardless of the outcome but expectations are already built up high on both sides and the GOP has a lot more to lose.

Posted by: RMill | June 1, 2006 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Chris... the real inside contest in California is in the 36th CD where Marcy Winograd is ahead of Jane Harman. This is the race both Parties are watching because it pits a Progressive against a DLC candidate. When Winograd wins it means that the progressive Movement is alive and well in America. As it transforms the Democratic Party how long will it be before a Republican Progressive Movement begins. I know all of the Corporate Cronies are watching and the press should be as well.

Posted by: Riozen | June 1, 2006 12:30 PM | Report abuse

To Maria: It's difficult to take your comments seriously. You could have given us some democratic ideas, instead of bashing Tina in the same manner Tina bashed liberals.

As for this special my mind you can't use it as a measuring stick. Whenever you have scandal, there is always going to be a "throw the bums out" mentality. If the dems are able to broaden the scandal to a national level, they will certainly increase their chances come November. But dems have their own problems...I think this strategy will be ineffective nationally, therefore making this election strictly a local event.

Posted by: FH | June 1, 2006 12:15 PM | Report abuse

"The lobbyist angle is used by Democrats because they don't have any plan to bring to the debate of solving the problems on our nation".

Is this supposed to be funny Tina? I am so sick of this BS mantra that Republicans spew over and over again. From everything that your Dear Leader says in his rare press conferences, there are no problems "ON" our nation because your party has done such a great job for the past 6 years!

You are not aware of any Democratic ideas because you are not open to hearing anything that they have been saying. When you listen to Rush and Hannity all day it leaves little time to expose yourself to rational thought.

Posted by: Maria | June 1, 2006 11:40 AM | Report abuse

It is because you spout nonsense that wastes space on the server.
Only a Dem could say that a pickup of three seats was a loss for Repubs. Kinda like Gore and Kerry won the elections. all the media hyping will be proven baseless very soon. no one trusts the Dems in the least, the polls don't show it because it is easy to make claims that have no consequences, but in a real election, people vote thier interests. SD is a military town and they will not put a Dem in the house.

Posted by: king of zouk | June 1, 2006 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Tina -- I believe the reason that it is relevant that Billbray used to be a lobbyist stems from the specific context of this election. As the post notes, the former congressman (Cunningham) "resigned last fall after it came to light that he had accepted millions in bribes from a defense contractor in exchange for preferential treatment in Congress."

As bad as Congress in general is, this is a District where their former Congressman outright took bribes from lobbyists and defense contractors. You don't see that as distinct from Daschle's wife being a registered lobbyist while her Husband was NEVER accused of any impropriety of any kind? Somehow I think the folks in this district - which based upon demographics should be unbelievably safe for Republicans - seem to disagree with you given the neck and neck race that exists right now. Whether you like it or not, being a former lobbyist is NOT a useful plus for anyone during this election cycle.

Oh, and what are you even talking about with your whole Emily's List comment? No one said Billbray isn't entitled to raise money from groups who like his regressive and economically remedial policies. Of course he and his party are free to do so. I think the point was simply that perhaps the district is a bit wary of anyone with such close ties to the lobbyist community given their former representatives acceptance of bribes.

Posted by: Colin | June 1, 2006 11:30 AM | Report abuse


Not that you meant it to be but it's very prescient of you to compare Daschle's tangential lobbyist ties and Bilbray's direct lobbyist ties. Daschle lost the election, afterall.

I would wager that a candidate's relationship with lobbyists is precisely the kind of thing that many voters in CA-50 would consider one of those "problems" facing their district; perhaps so much so that it is worthy of "debate".

If not now (after Cunningham) then when?

Posted by: Will | June 1, 2006 11:29 AM | Report abuse


If you have a lot of links, you get bounced. That has happened to me a couple of times. Everyone keeps asking to cite sources and then I would add them all in and Bam! they never appeared.

Posted by: RMill | June 1, 2006 11:14 AM | Report abuse

The lobbyist complaint is full of holes since so many Democrats do this as well, just look at Tom Daschle's wife working for Boeing as a lobbyist. Was she involved with Darleen Druyun (the military woman in charge of defense contracts who was doing deals to get jobs for her kids with Boeing as payback for her favors)? Oh by the way, Darleen did most of her deals while in the Pentagon during the Clinton years and right now, Darlene is in prison.

The lobbyist angle is used by Democrats because they don't have any plan to bring to the debate of solving the problems on our nation. Bilbray was a member of Congress, and if the Republicans in the District think he did a good job for them, they will send him back.
If Emily's List can funnel thousands of dollars to Francine, it just shows special interest groups for Democrats is held to lower standards than groups trying to promote business-minded Republicans.
We shall see what happens in 5 days.
Thanks to Cillizza for reminding us about the 2 special elections won by Republicans in 1994, I had forgotten those races before the other 52 seats were taken over by the Republican Elephant.

Posted by: Tina | June 1, 2006 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Chris: I think that drawing any comparison to the 2004 special elections, and saying that they "are not always predictive of how the next general election will play out" because Democrats lost seats that November plays right into the GOP's talking points. The Republicans saw a net gain of three seats in the House for the 109th Congress, to be sure, but it's necessary to recall that the Tom DeLay-sponsored redistricting in Texas was designed to give the GOP a big gain in that state alone (they got six). Leave that aside, however, and it's clear that in November, the Republicans did lose further ground.

It's also notable that CA-50 is perceived as much more of a GOP "safe seat" than either KY-6 or SD-AL were, not to mention that the Democratic victors in both of those special elections had big advantages in already having statewide name recognition, something that Francine Busby most certainly did not have.

Posted by: The Maven | June 1, 2006 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Of course democrats had to be different.

Thanks Jamie

Posted by: Wells | June 1, 2006 10:26 AM | Report abuse

It's DCCC, not NDCC

Posted by: Jamie | June 1, 2006 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Chris statement about the RNC spending 4.5 million dollars is so funny.

He says it like it not usual. 4.5 million dollars from the NRCC(sorry not RNC) for one house race is very, very unsual.

The NRCC has spent more money on this one house race than the RNC spent for the whole state of Virginia governor's race last November. Oh yeah they lost that race to. The NRCC is currently tied with cash on hand with the NDCC. If the NRCC keeps spending 4.5 million on each competative race they have (which is now at 35) they will be broke before November.

Posted by: Wells | June 1, 2006 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Chris ( How could you leave out Bilbray RECENT on Wednesday Sen. McCain controversy )

Sen. McCain was going to have a big fundraiser for Bilbray on Wednesday. But, Sen. McCain cancelled his fundraiser with Bilbray - and said he refused to fundraiser for Bilbray because of what he said about McCain's immigration issue in the Senate. Subtext: Senator McCain no longer supports or endorses Bilbray. Sen. McCain is very popular in CA-50 alot more popular than Pres. Bush is currently.

McCain rejection of Bilbray on Wednesday ended any chance Bilbray could win on Tuesday.

My prediction Busby wins on Tuesday. I feel sorry for the republicans who have spent 9.5 million dollars trying to save Bilbray. So much money wasted, 4.5 is only the RNC cost. Bilbray has spent 2 million. Outside Replican groups have spent 3 million. If republicans can't win a republican district after spending 9.5 million dollars, they are in BIG TROUBLE !!!

Posted by: Wells | June 1, 2006 9:47 AM | Report abuse

To other posters:

When you put up a comment, does it get diverted to a screener or does it go up right away? I'm trying to figure out why I am getting censored.

Posted by: Drindl | June 1, 2006 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Glad to see such interest in San Diego and this particular race, but how is it that Bilbray has been able to avoid any national press scrutiny for his first lobbyist deal after he got turned out of Congress? He was hired by a company that he specifically coauthored legislation for a sole source contract on (Bajagua), something that even DC-based POGO (Project on Government Oversight) noted in a pretty massive critique of the project. The local San Diego paper (Union Tribune) has covered it, but it certainly didn't get any national coverage.

My surprise is just that Bilbray would be filling a seat that was left empty because of scandal, and yet here's someone whose past actions seem to put him in the same category...or maybe that's just the way we're supposed to expect our Congresspeople to be?

Posted by: BajaguaBill | June 1, 2006 9:34 AM | Report abuse

More bad news for Bilbray. US Senator John McCain, citing difference over immigration policy, cancelled a campaign appearance with Congressional candidate Brian Bilbray. (North County Times, 5/31).

Posted by: RMill | June 1, 2006 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Survey USA
May 10
Busby (D) 45%
Bilbray (R) 45%

Moore Information (Rep firm)
May 4
Busby (D) 43%
Bilbray (R) 37%

LRP (Dem firm)
May 12-15
Busby 47%
Bilbray 40%

Posted by: RMill | June 1, 2006 9:31 AM | Report abuse

I too enjoyed that last paragraph, particularly the "...could help Democrats build momentum for a big fall or reenergize Republicans..."

My first thought was something along the lines of isn't that the same thing? So call me dense. Oh well...

I think there is a further issue, should Busby win: Her victory would be in part do to Hauf's direct-mail campaign, which would not necessarily bode well for her re-election in the 'fall'. Think about it this way: take all the voters that vote republican within the 50th, regardless of who's name is on the ballot, add that to those who usually vote GOP, but this time due to Hauf's campaign, vote for Busby. This will likely be more than enough to douse Busby's re-election efforts.

Posted by: Luke (Apathetic Nation blog) | June 1, 2006 9:23 AM | Report abuse

It is telling that all eyes are on this race. To use a sports analogy, it's like Maryland Eastern Shore playing the Redskins. Ought to be a blowout.

This is a bedrock GOP seat folks! If they can't pull off at least a ten point win here...they're in trouble nationally.

Speaking on EWM:

"Contrition, Crawford Style"
...Standing in front of the nation and beside what's left of Tony Bair, Bush admitted that he's just too damn manly. Bush says it was the "tough talk," that stands out among mistakes. You know, the "bring it on," "wanted dead or alive" crap.

The President let his inner cowboy out and he's sorry for sending the "wrong signals." Signals are important to this caballero. There's no "Brokeback" in his Baghdad policy....

Posted by: The Eyewitness Muse | June 1, 2006 9:21 AM | Report abuse

I would like to know why, when I make a point about the press having an institutional bias against Democrats, and offer many examples, that post gets taken down. Over and over again.

I have not used offensive language, nor have I defamed anyone. Why is the Post engaging in this kind of censorship? What are you afraid of?

Posted by: Drindl | June 1, 2006 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Yes, JL, I see that Democrats are 'building momentum for a big fall' -- what a very odd turn of phrase. I think beltway reporters have internalized their hostility toward Democrats.

And I don't think it's 'irrational' in any way to say that the press is biased against Democrats, and has been for some time. It's ludicrous to say otherwise. Look at the way they demonized [and continue to do so] Bill and Hillary Clinton. John Kerry [and his wife]. Or Al Gore. Howard Dean. Tom Daschle, Nancy Pelosi. Harry Reid. I could go on. Last week alone, Gore was compared unfavorably to a Nazi on three different news shows.

No Republican has ever been treated to this kind of relentless criticism. Bush had a free ride for years. Imagine if Clinton's dad had twisted arms to get him a spot in the Guard so he wouldn't have to fight, then if Clinton had skipped out early and still gotten credit. Imagine if Hillary Clinton had come home drunk from a party and hit a car driven by her ex-boyfriend, killing him. Imagine if Al Gore, while vice-president, had made $90 million in war profiteering in one year. When Republicans do it, it barely gets noticed.

Nope, sorry. The press has an institutional bias against Democrats. End of story.

Posted by: Drindl | June 1, 2006 9:09 AM | Report abuse

I keep hearing that this race is a 'dead heat' but haven't seen any poll data. Anyone have any recent data to back up the big claims about this being a competetive race?

Also, cute phrasing in your next to last sentence, Chris. I know it was an unintentional poke at Democrats, but it's only going to increase the irrational sense that a lot of readers have that you are somehow biased against Democrats.

Of course, plenty of Republicans are also saying that you're biased against them. So altogether you must be doing something right.

Posted by: Jackson Landers | June 1, 2006 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Certainly a bellweather. The mere fact that its tight illustrates the GOP's pending crack up. Incompetent and corrupt governance has consequences for both the party in power and the public that is ill served.

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal Journal | June 1, 2006 6:33 AM | Report abuse

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