Marginal Footnotes

Billbray Wins in CA-50, But So What?
June 7, 2006, 12:25 pm
Filed under: Elections, Media, Midterm Elections, Politics, Uncategorized

The Washington Post's report on the Billbray-Busby contest for Duke Cunningham's old district is an interesting piece of news analysis. The premise of the article is that the Democratic defeat signals that GOP corruption scandals will have little effect on election outcomes nation-wide since CA-50 was allegedly a 'bellwether' race. I don't really buy the barometer argument because I really didn't expect Busby to prevail in the race.  Did anyone? I do think a signal has been sent by how well she ended up doing in the Republican stronghold that is CA-50. 

A bit of background about the district first: (1) in 2004 Cunningham, who had held the seat since 1990, raised a little over $800,000, spent nearly $1M and prevailed over Busby, who managed to raise and spend only about $200,000 in the race; (2) In 2002, Cunningham's opponent Del Stewart raised about $15,000.  He lost; (3) But at least he raised $10K more than the Democrat who ran in 2000; (4) virtually at no time in recent memory has a Democrat had a very solid chance of winning this district.       

Two things the article acknowledges suggests the news isn't all bad for Democrats: (1) this is a heavily Republican district, so it's really not all that surprising that Busby lost. The surprise is that she lost only by about 4 percentage points; (2) the NRCC and the state party pumped millions into the race, and Cheney, Laura, and Schwarzenegger were all highly visible. This was a massive effort by the Republican part to retain a seat which has never before been in jeopardy. All Republicans had to do, really, was insist that the Duke was uniquely scummy (probably true, considering) and that Billbray was not scummy (also probably true). These people are Republicans after all: whether the argument is true or not is inconsequential.  Cunningham is in jail. They got their man.  Why would Republicans be inclined to condemn their entire political party?    

This second factor indicates that this was a major uphill climb for conservatives in a district which should have been a safe bet for them.  It is true that Busby ($2.3M) outraised Billbray ($1.1M) by about a million dollars (the difference in spending is about the same), although his campaign started significantly later than hers.  But it is also true, and the Post article points out, that the NRCC spent $4.5 million on the race compared to the DCCC's reported $1.9 million. This is in a district that supported Bush by 55 percent in 2004.

This is in addition to Busby's day-before-the-runoff remark about illegal immigrants not needing 'papers' to vote for her, which the NRCC rad an air ad on and which Rush Limbaugh and other conservative commentators discussed all day, that no doubt inspired God knows how many 'patriotic' conservatives to head to the polls.  This is important because no one thought Busby could ever win more than 45 percent of the vote, and the trick was to hope that Republicans would turn out in smaller numbers, which would depress the threshold for victory.  That didn't happen, and while the 'papers' remark is important, the GOP also prevailed in localizing the election, where the Democrats appear to have failed to some extent in nationalizing the race about the so-called GOP culture of corruption. This may signal that Democrats are going to have a tough time nationalizing local races, but I doubt it.  The point is this was a heavily Republican district that was an unneccessarily close call for the GOP, requiring a huge dedication of resources, time, and money. 


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