The Other Race in California's 50th District

LOS ANGELES—One of the most difficult parts of reporting on the special election for Congress in California’s 50th District (San Diego) on Tuesday is that, as they are electing someone to fill out the remaining months of the term of disgraced former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R.-Calif.), 50th District voters will simultaneously select nominees to run for a full term as congressman this November.

So does this mean that if Republican Brian Bilbray loses on Tuesday to Democrat Francine Busby, he gets a second crack at the seat in a November rematch?

Not necessarily. Whether moderate GOPer Bilbray wins or loses the special election, he faces unusually strong competition from the right in the primary the same day. Businessman Bill Hauf, who ran far behind Bilbray and other GOP hopefuls in the initial balloting to choose nominees for the special election in April, is continuing his campaign in the primary for the full term.

In the initial balloting, Bilbray, who represented a neighboring district from 1994-2000, was the top GOP vote-getter by 800 votes over Eric Roach, an area businessman and strong conservative. Bilbray edged Roach by 15% to 14%, followed by former State Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian (7.4%) and State Sen. Bill Morrow (4%). Although Roach initially announced he would continue his candidacy in the full-term primary, he abruptly scotched his bid—reportedly following a meeting in Washington with Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman, who, sources told me, was worried that a full-term primary challenge to Bilbray might confuse voters and harm his chances in the special election.

But the 62-year-old Hauf, who drew about 2% in the first balloting, chose to continue the race. Roach and Morrow are neutral in the Bilbray-Hauf primary, but Kaloogian has been a vigorous supporter of the conservative entrepreneur for nomination to a full term. Former Republican Assemblyman Steve Baldwin and the conservative volunteer group California Republican Assembly have endorsed Hauf. (All the unsuccessful Republican candidates, however, have urged a vote for Bilbray in the special election).

“So Bill has picked up where Eric and the others left off and now a conservative goes up against Brian Bilbray mano a mano,” said Hauf spokesman David Gilroy, who was a top strategist for Roach in the earlier race.

Hauf himself caught up with me by phone between door-to-door canvassing of GOP voters, whereupon he learned from friendly Republicans of the recorded calls from George W. Bush (“I thought it was [impressionist] Rich Little,” Hauf quipped to me after listening to the message).

The entrepreneur candidate, who has been active in San Diego community affairs for 18 years, spelled out his differences with Bilbray. “[Bilbray] says he’s strong on the immigration issues, yet in his years in Congress, he was never able to pass his proposal to deny citizenship to the children of illegal aliens [”anchor babies”],”Hauf told me, spelling out how he has read more than 100 briefing papers on the issue of illegal immigration and has devised an elaborate system to identify laborers in the country illegally. Hauf not only backs securing the borders, but deploying troops to identify “drug smugglers and criminals coming across the border.” Where Bilbray is “pro-choice,” Hauf noted, :”I am strongly pro-life; I favor the Second Amendment and he got an ‘F’ from the National Rifle Association while in Congress.”

In a unique stand for a candidate today, Hauf called for ‘dusting off the Grace Commission report of 1982 and enacting proposals which would have saved us more than $420 billion in wasteful spending.”

Hauf spokesman Gilroy confirmed that Issa and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.), who also represents the San Diego area, have urged his man to abandon his primary race. When I inquired about the tone they used, Gilroy quipped: “I think they’ve been watching too many episodes of The Sopranos.”