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Monday, May 15, 2006

CA-50: Brian Bilbray and GOP in Serious Trouble

As I mentioned on Friday, the NRCC is freaked out and dumping an obscene amount of money into the special election for California's 50th Congressional District. The AP says:

Randy "Duke" Cunningham's former congressional district is a classic safe seat, custom-designed to generate Republican wins. But with Cunningham jailed in a mushrooming political scandal, the San Diego-area seat is now one the GOP cannot afford to lose.

A June 6 special election runoff pits Republican Brian Bilbray against Democrat Francine Busby to fill the seven months remaining in Cunningham's term. The runoff will be the last national-level electoral test for both parties before November's midterm vote.

Cunningham resigned his 50th Congressional District seat in November and was sentenced in March to more than eight years in prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. With polls showing the public is uneasy with the leadership of President Bush and the Republican-controlled House, GOP strategists are keenly aware that a loss, or even a squeaker, in Cunningham's former district could be a sign of weakness for the party.

"The Republicans can't afford to lose this seat," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. "People use the word bellwether, but I like to use the word symbolic. The Republicans understand the symbolism."

To date, the 50 state strategy of contesting this race has been great news for the Democratic Party. Learning from the mistakes of last year's in Ohio's second congressional district, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is coming in early. But it is also a noteworthy benefit of a fifty state strategy that every dollar the DCCC spends is costing the NRCC almost $2 to hold onto a "safe" district.

Aware of the high stakes, the National Republican Congressional Committee has spent close to $2 million on ads attacking Busby. One claimed that as a local school board member she praised a teacher who was arrested in a child-pornography case.

Vice President Dick Cheney will visit San Diego on May 23 to headline a $2,100-a-plate Bilbray fund-raiser. House Speaker Dennis Hastert campaigned for Bilbray in early May, and Republican presidential hopeful John McCain is scheduled for the end of the month.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has countered with at least $1.3 million for ads attacking Bilbray, a former congressman who became a lobbyist for an anti-illegal-immigration group shortly after losing his seat in 2000. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the Democrats' 2004 presidential nominee, has raised money for Busby, as have and Emily's List, a group that backs abortion rights advocates. [...]

"If Busby wins, it will panic a lot of Republicans," said Republican consultant Allan Hoffenblum, who publishes the nonpartisan California Target Book, which rates the race as competitive. "It would mean there is a sizable group of Republicans who have decided not to vote Republican this year."

Will Republicans sit this race out? The San Deigo Union-Tribune has a story on the dynamic of conservatives not voting for Bilbray:

Will the conservatives of the district rally behind him despite his socially moderate views and propensity to cross party lines, or will they sit on their hands in the June 6 election to replace former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham?

A few already have answered the question. "I only have one vote, and I cannot vote for a man so far away from my value system," said Vicky Bush, a conservative homemaker in Rancho Penasquitos. "And I can't vote for Busby, no way. So for the Duke replacement term, I'm not voting."
There is one principled voter. Are there more?
"I've talked to people all over the district and they feel deceived, like they can't trust anyone," said Lou Aspell, a former Encinitas mayor. "They've lost their belief in the candidates, their party and Washington."
Not just Bilbray, but Republicans have lost their faith in their party.
Some conservatives, including retired investment banker Bob Anderson, say it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if Busby did get six months in Congress. Perhaps it would make Washington Republicans realize that voters need a conservative choice in November, Anderson said.

Anderson, an Escondido resident, said he'll wait until he's at the polls June 6 to make up his mind whether he'll vote in the special-election runoff. He'll vote for Roach in the primary.

"The Republicans have a chance of losing the whole House by one or two seats, so if Bilbray loses, that could be the losing seat," Anderson said. “So it's a very difficult decision. But then there's my personal distaste for (Bilbray). He can waffle on more issues than anyone I've ever met.”

Conservatives don't like Bilbray, but realize that once a politician is elected to congress, he is likely to stay there which means there could be years or even decades of Bilbray voting against conservatives.

Brian Boswell, an activist with the National Rifle Association, likes to think he had a hand in the defeat as well. Boswell and several other NRA activists waved silk handkerchiefs at Bilbray when he was at public engagements and shouted: "Yoo-hoo! Yoo-hoo!" to show that they felt Bilbray paid more attention to gay-rights issues than gun issues. They were proud Bilbray lost, despite the fact that a Democrat has been in the seat ever since.

"This is what you get for defying us," Boswell said.

The conservative California Republican Assembly sent out two anti-Bilbray mailings during the special election in an effort to defeat him. The group's president, Mike Spence, said his organization isn't opposing Bilbray in the special election, but would have supported a conservative in the primary if one had emerged.

"Bilbray has a long history of doing things to make conservatives mad, and he's reaping the rewards for that," Spence said.

Ouch. I sounds like the reporter didn't have much of a problem finding conservatives willing to trash talk Bilbray.

Laureen Leaver, a semiretired conservative from Encinitas, said she considers whether to go to the polls a "real moral dilemma."

"I have never not-voted up to this point, but I am considering it, because I hate to vote for someone because I consider them the lesser of two evils," Leaver said.

No wonder the NRCC is worried. Go help out Francine Busby!

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