Bilbray Beats Busby for Cunningham Seat
Republican Brian Bilbray is ahead of Democrat Francine Busby with about half the votes counted in the race to fill out the remainder of “Duke” Cunningham’s term.
In a race seen as a barometer for the midterm elections, a former Republican congressman led early Wednesday in a GOP-dominated House district where Democrats had hoped to capitalize on the scandal that ousted former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Former Rep. Brian Bilbray was ahead of Democrat Francine Busby in early returns in the solidly Republican San Diego-area district about 30 miles north of the Mexican border. The immigration debate and a GOP corruption scandal were major themes in the campaign for the seat held by Cunningham before he went to prison for bribery.
With 47 percent of precincts reporting, Bilbray had 35,560 votes, or 49.7 percent, compared with 32,008 votes, or 44.7 percent, for Busby. Because votes were still being counted, officials said the winner may not be determined until later Wednesday. The victor will serve the remaining seven months of Cunningham’s term.
Bilbray made immigration the centerpiece of his campaign, calling for construction of a fence “from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico” and barring illegal immigrants from collecting Social Security benefits. Busby, a local school board member who ran against Cunningham in 2004, focused her campaign on public dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and the GOP-led Congress. She assailed Bilbray for working as a lobbyist in Washington and routinely referred to him as “lobbyist Bilbray.”
Democrats spent nearly $2 million on the high-stakes contest, and the GOP spent more than $4 million. President Bush and first lady
Laura Bush recorded automated telephone messages for Bilbray. A mass e-mailing from Sen. John Kerry, the party’s 2004 presidential candidate, was sent last week to more than 100,000 supporters, urging them to help get out the vote. Al Gore also recorded a phone message telling Democrats to go to the polls.
If these results hold, the GOP will breathe a sigh of relief, at least temporarily. It’s quite likely the same two candidates will gear up to do it all over again in November.
Given the money spent, having the Republican barely hold a once-solid seat is an indication at the depths to which the Cunningham and Abramoff scandals have rocked the party. And this is after Busby shot herself in the foot with some ill-advised statements about immigration last week. Of course, nominating a congressman-turned-lobbyist to take the seat of a congressman forced from office after taking lobbyist bribes might not have been the ideal strategy from a GOP standpoint, either.
Update: The race has been called for Busby. Post title changed accordingly.
“With 90 percent of precincts reporting, Bilbray had 56,130 votes or 49.5 percent. Busby trailed with 51,292 votes or 45 percent.”