For all the hype and the money spent on the race between former Rep. Brian Bilbray (R) and Francine Busby (D) in California’s 50th District, Busby, in her loss to Bilbray, failed to exceed significantly the percentage won here by John Kerry in 2004. This is significant, because although she will have another shot at Bilbray in November, the turnout should have favored her yesterday, since Republicans had no other races to drive their turnout and Democrats had a gubernatorial primary.
The outcome proves that even with corrupt former Republican Rep. Duke Cunningham’s name fresh in the news, low turnout, a weak candidate like Bilbray and dissension within the GOP ranks (that led to negative Republican campaigning against Bilbray), Democrats cannot win here. Even here, where it should have mattered most, the “culture of corruption” mantra wasn’t enough to convince voters to pull the Democratic lever.
The decisive issue in this race was clearly immigration, with Busby taking President Bush’s side against Bilbray’s anti-amnesty hard line. She cost herself support with a careless remark — taken out of context — soliciting illegal-alien volunteers for her campaign at a Hispanic voter event, which sounded like she was encouraging illegal voting.
A Busby victory would have put the Democrats within 14 seats of a House majority instead of 15. It also would have brought about a series of news stories highlighting the Democrats’ likely takeover of the U.S. House in November. But now Democrats have enough better targets on the map that they will not waste their time and money on this one again, barring some enormous gaffe by Bilbray upon his return to Congress. Likely Republican Retention.