Is CA’s 50th Congressional District the bellweather for ’06? Posted by: McQ
on Thursday, June 01, 2006
Will tuesday's special election in California's 50th Congressional District presage the results of the off-year elections in November? Some are speculating it might.
The reason the district is having a special election is because it is the district of former Congressman and present jailbird Randy "Duke" Cunningham. The district is, and always has been, a Republican stronghold. But there are indications that perhaps a Democrat might win. Polls show the race to be a tight one:
45% Bilbray (R) 45% Busby (D) 9% Other 1% Undecided
An amazingly slim 1% hold the difference. This in a district which has always had a 4:3 Republican majority and handed Ms. Busby an overwhelming defeat last time she tried (she received 36% of the vote).
By all accounts it's been a nasty race, but still, Busby is neck and neck with Bilbray. As the article points out, there is also a bit of experimentation going on in the district race:
"Both sides are trying out their heavy artillery to see what works for them in the fall," says political scientist Carl Luna of Mesa College.
Forever carried by most political analysts as a 'safe seat' for Republicans, that assessment is now in doubt. And if it is in doubt, what about the 11 or so Republican incumbents who face tough races in their districts this fall.
Interestingly one subject has not been a part of the campaign:
The candidates didn't discuss Mr. Cunningham, the former longtime congressman convicted in a bribery scandal, nor did they touch on issues they agree on, such as support for abortion rights. Instead, they tackled illegal immigration and the war in Iraq.
Not only is this race a preview of the fall elections, it is a preview of '08.
Republican disaffection with their party, at least in this district, seems to be evident given the closeness of the race. So it all comes down to this:
Ultimately, Republicans disgruntled by Bush and Congress may be the deciding factor in Bilbray versus Busby. "The real question for the conservative wing is: Are they willing to ... suck it up and vote to help the party?" Dr. Luna says. If the Republicans can't win "with their home-field advantage, that's a sign the fans are deserting the home team."
And if that's the case, it could be a very long November night for Republican congressional candidates.
UPDATE: Don't just look to California's 50th district for signs of a sea change in Congress. Consider what happened in Pennsylvania in a Republican primary for another indicator. 16 incumbent Republican legislators went down to underfunded and essentially unknown challengers. Many attribute it to large payraises they gave themselves, but in reality, that may simply have been the straw that broke the camel's back. As Mike Folmer, one of the winners points out, it was more than a pay raise:
These people at the grassroots no longer viewed the state Legislature as a servant of the people but as an exclusive club for political insiders. They fumed as the legislators voted to increase their own pensions by 50%, in addition to excessive daily allowances just to show up for work, and at the practice of allowing members to take expensive junkets to resort locations.
It was as if the Republican Party leadership in the state capitol had forgotten everything they'd been taught by Ronald Reagan—that the core values of the Republican Party were lower taxes, less spending and limited government.
Tell me, given the situation extant in Washington today, how the PA Legislature is that much different than the US Congress?
Busby’s momentum in the 50 is unprecedented. If you are interested in helping Francine achieve victory in this important and historic race, please visit www.californiawomenvote.org. It is time for a change!
Thanks for the plug. In a bit of an embarrasing admission, the 3/30 update is 3/30 2005, before Cunningham resigned. Today I’d have it at Slight Lean Democrat. Examining the district closely, it isn’t as safely Republican as many might think. While Rs have a large registration advantage, the district only went for Bush by 5 points more than his national average, which doesn’t qualify as a "swing" district, but doesn’t really qualify as "safe" either. Cunningham himself only won with 58% of the vote in ’04, which isn’t bad, but is probably at the low end for a 14-year incumbent.
If Bilbray loses — which I think he probably will — it really isn’t a harbinger of anything. Looking back, in 1978 Bill Green won a special election in a heavily Democratic district on Manhattan, and while Republicans made gains that midterm election, they weren’t spectacular. In 1989 Gene Taylor (D) won a special election with 65% of the vote in a Mississippi district that had goen for Bush by a similar margin, and Dems made only modest gains in 1990. More recently, in 2004 Democrats picked up heavily Republican districts in Kentucky and South Dakota, and, well, we know how that turned out for them.
Here we have a split local Republican party dealing with the aftermath of a 14-way election, a congressman who resigned in disgrace, and a well-funded challenger who had name recognition from her previous run. While national conditions will certainly affect this race, there is ample internal explanation for the making of this debacle-in-the-making. Republicans may well lose the House in November, but this election will have little to do with it (unless Dems win by 1 seat).
Cunningham himself only won with 58% of the vote in ’04, which isn’t bad, but is probably at the low end for a 14-year incumbent.
Wasn’t there some pretty persistent rumblings about him then though? That may have had some effect. But still, she only managed 36%. Now, however, without Cunningham even being discussed she’s at 45%. Quite a change.
More recently, in 2004 Democrats picked up heavily Republican districts in Kentucky and South Dakota, and, well, we know how that turned out for them.
But this isn’t 2004 any more Sean and there’s been a lot of Congressional water under the bridge since then, most of it pretty nasty.
I still think it all boils down to getting out the vote (well every election does, and Republicans did a phenomenal job in ’04) and I’m not sure appeals to the base, like ’04, are going to work this time.
BTW, I updated the piece with a point about the PA Legislature’s Republican primary and how 16 Rep incumbents go the boot. It’s a mood, Sean. And what is going on in Washington is no different, for the most part, than what was going on in the Legislature in PA.
I think, and it’s only a gut feeling, but my gut has been darn good in the past, that the Reps may end up losing the House in Nov.
I especially think that may come true, given the discussion in the 50th about immigration and Iraq, if those two subjects remain front burner and there is no immigration bill passed and Iraq remains in a general status quo come November.
The candidates didn’t discuss Mr. Cunningham, the former longtime congressman convicted in a bribery scandal, nor did they touch on issues they agree on, such as support for abortion rights. Instead, they tackled illegal immigration and the war in Iraq
Yes, but you know it’s there, lurking large in the race, even if it’s unspoken. It wouldn’t suprise me to see the seat switch to the Ds simply because not everyplace is like New Jersey- some people won’t stand for a bribery scandal in their district. I wouldn’t consider that a bellweather.
Tell me, given the situation extant in Washington today, how the PA Legislature is that much different than the US Congress
Because there’s no possibility of Kennedy, Reid and Pelosi ever having a chance to run things in the PA Legislature.
I’m more inclined to see the PA "quake" as a bellweather, and even that I would only take so far, because it’s one thing for the base to show dissatisfaction on the loacl level, it’s quite another to show it at the national level, where the stakes are much higher (of course, PA is going to kick out Santorum also, so who knows)
Cunningham was always controversial to be sure (his wikipedia entry is actually pretty good). But the contracting scandal didn’t begin to break until after his re-election. While an underfunded Busby only got 37% in 2004 (plus 2 for the Green candidate), a swing of 8 points or more when an incumbent is removed and when the challenger becomes fully funded is not that unusual.
At any rate, I don’t think I disagree with many of the things you say in your response, but rather object to some of the connections made. I think it’s highly likely that Busby will win, and if forced to bet on Tradesports right now, I’d probably take the even odds on the Democrats taking the House [shudder].
That said, how the CA-50 election plays out wouldn’t affect how I bet, except maybe if it is a complete blowout either way. As I’ve noted (I actually put a fairly involved post on the track record of special election up on my blog last night), special elections have a pretty poor track record when it comes to predicting the future, and I think this seat would probably be in jeopardy given all that is going on at the local level even if Bush’s approval ratings were higher (much like the two much more Republican seats in 2004 were in jeopardy when Bush’s approval ratings were higher). You basically have everything going wrong for Republicans that can possibly go wrong — an ugly, divided Republican primary, a well-funded Democrat with no primary opponent, an uncharismatic Republican candidate, and a disgraced outgoing Republican. Add a ham-handed campaign from the national party that produces a potential backlash and a rebuke from one of the party’s leaders, and there is plenty of local explanation for what is going on here without even factoring Bush or the state of the national Republicans.
Pennsylvania has an interesting dynamic that I haven’t fully grasped yet. Remember, a state supreme court justice got drummed out as well, and he had *nothing* to do with the pay raise. People there are *really* hacked off over the issue. It remain to be seen how that plays out in November; I really have no idea.
I think Republicans are putting way too much stock in that little canard. Many are going to say "how could they do worse?"
Indeed. The specter of Speaker Gingrich and House Majority Leader Armey didn’t do the Democrats much good in ’94.
Here is an outstanding chance to add some credence, of the true feelings of American citizens on the Immigration mess. If you live in San Diego County, California you can show your fellow taxpayers by putting all rivalries aside and voting for Mr. Bilbray. Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican or Independent this will illustrate to the rest of the American people that citizens are adamant about terminating illegal aliens from pouring across our border.
Illegal Immigration will Destroy AMERICA
Personally, I lived in California for 18 years and would have still been there today, if my wife and I hadn’t separated. Like Los Angeles, the city of San Diego had everything going for it. Today it is dirty and crammed with tenements; illegally living in garages and causing concern in public hospitals. As far as I’m concerned charity begins in America. We look after our senior citizens, veterans and the low income Americans. Sorry. We cannot any longer support the world. This is exactly what we are doing now and if President Bush get’s his way, with his Senate bill we will have an unstoppable stream of poor humanity. This is lowering Americas living standards specifically for the blue collar and less skilled citizen worker. Put your political convictions aside for a short while, and show these idiots who are supposed to represent the American people you mean business.
Illegal Immigration will Destroy AMERICA
Judge for yourself how border cities have deteriorated in the last 30 years, since the arrival of masses of illegal immigrants. Soon not even small towns will be able to handle the uncompensated debts in hospital, school districts. It all comes out of OUR pockets.
Illegal Immigration will Destroy AMERICA
With this obscene immigration bill everything American have lived and died for is about to end. The people in Washington have denied us the real truth about the huge cost’s involved. Even the Iraq War, Abortion, Gay marriage, Medicare, Terrorism and other cultural issues dwarfs in comparison to the fallout from this.
Illegal Immigration will Destroy AMERICA
I think it might scare the hell out of both parties, if you voted for the candidate who was dead against any kind of guest worker program and certainly any unrestrained path to citizenship. From my research the estimate of 11 to 12 million illegal aliens in the country is low. The ugly truth it is more like 20 to 25 million, but you will not hear that number uttered in most of the media.