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Primary Update: Spinning California 50 and More

House Republicans avoided a major headache last night as former Rep. Brian Bilbray (R) beat back a surprisingly strong challenge from Democrat Francine Busby to win the special election in California's 50th District.

2006 Campaign Map
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Bilbray took 49.5 percent to Busby's 45 percent in a race that drew national attention following the resignation of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who admitted last fall to taking several million dollars worth of bribes from a defense contractor.

The race, which was initially expected to be a slam dunk for Republicans, turned into a nip-and-tuck affair thanks to a toxic local and national political environment for the GOP.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) painted the race as a sign that the much-discussed national Democratic wave is simply not building.

"The results in San Diego show that nothing has happened to alter the notion that House elections are about a choice between local personalities focused on local issues," said Reynolds, whose organization spent nearly $5 million to ensure Bilbray's victory.

Democrats sought to paint the loss as a moral victory, a sign that they can compete even in districts that are heavily tilted to Republicans. Party officials also noted that the NRCC will not be able to spend $5 million in every competitive race in the country come November.

While the California special election was the marquee race on the ballot yesterday, it was far from the only one worth watching in the Golden State.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides used the support from the Democratic Party establishment and organized labor to eke out a 48 percent to 44 percent victory in the gubernatorial primary over state Controller Steve Westly, who spent tens of millions of his own money on the race. Angelides's victory improves Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) chances at reelection in the fall, as he's a traditional liberal with little natural charisma..

Staying in California, 11th District Rep. Richard Pombo easily defeated former Rep. Pete McCloskey in a Republican primary race that the challenger sought to turn into a referendum on ethics. Pombo will face 2004 nominee Jerry McNerney, who crushed airline pilot Steve Filson -- the candidate endorsed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In Montana, state Sen. Jon Tester walloped state Auditor John Morrison for the right to take on Sen. Conrad Burns (R) in the fall. Tester took 61 percent to 35 percent for Morrison, a stunning rebuke to the one-time frontrunner whose campaign was beset by revelations about an extramarital affair. Burns is one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country.

Iowa Secretary of State Chet Culver won a competitive, three-way Democratic primary to claim his party's gubernatorial nomination. Culver moves on to face Rep. Jim Nussle (R) in the fall -- a toss-up contest. In the state's eastern 1st District, which Nussle is vacating to run for governor, former Iowa Trial Lawyers Association president Bruce Braley (D) and restaurant owner Mike Whalen (R) won their respective primaries. Braley starts the general election with an edge thanks to the Democratic underpinnings of the district.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley easily defeated former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in the Republican primary, while Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley won by a larger-than-expected margin over former Gov. Don Siegelman on the Democratic side. Riley is the favorite in the fall.

Elsewhere, New Jersey Assemblyman Albio Sires easily won the Democratic primary in the 13th District and will be a heavy favorite this fall, while in Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson defeated state Rep. Chuck Espy in a somewhat competitive Democratic primary race.

Stay tuned for more analysis later today.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 7, 2006; 8:14 AM ET
Categories:  Governors , House , Senate  
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Next: A Closer Look at the GOP's Win in California 50

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