Additionally, some Democrats following California’s Democratic gubernatorial primary predict San Diego County could turn into a battleground for votes between Phil Angelides, the state treasurer, and Steve Westly, the state controller, as the county has the state’s second largest population of Democrats next to Los Angeles County. If that happens, voter turnout among Democrats could be driven up and help Busby, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) is not facing a similar primary challenge that would similarly motivate Republican voters.
Bilbray, the top GOP finisher, scored only 15.3 percent of the vote. But the combined number of votes secured by the 14 Republicans who ran equaled 53.5 percent.
Despite the notion that ethics reform is the No. 1 issue voters in the 50th district care about after the Cunningham scandal, Bilbray ran primarily on enforcing the nearby southern border with Mexico and curtailing illegal immigration. He barely edged out Eric Roach (R), a multimillioinaire entrepreneur who had garnered 14.5 percent of the vote. Although there were still some 1,000 absentee and provisional ballots to be counted at press time, Roach conceded the spot in the runoff to Bilbray on Friday.
Roach also took a tough line against illegal immigration. But he centered his campaign around restoring honesty to government, vowing not to take money from political action committees or participate in lobbyist-sponsored junkets — ever.
Bilbray, a moderate who served in Congress for eight years before being ousted in 2000 by Rep. Susan Davis (D) in a neighboring district and has been working as a lobbyist ever since, beat Roach despite being outspent 5-1 by the conservative political newcomer. Roach used much of his millions making sure voters knew Bilbray has been working as a lobbyist since leaving office.
Dave Gilliard, Bilbray’s chief political consultant, said attempting to tie the former Congressman to Cunningham and the other scandals brewing around Republicans in Washington, D.C. is a losing strategy. “Guilt by association almost never works,” Gilliard said, “especially because [Bilbray] is so well known.”
Bilbray offered his own assessment of Capitol Hill’s ethics problems in explaining why he doesn’t think his tenure as a lobbyist, including work for a group opposed to illegal immigration, would cost him the runoff.
“We have an ethics problem out in Washington right now [with lawmakers] looking the other way with 11 million illegal aliens demonstrating in the street. The biggest ethics question is: Will you give amnesty and reward people for breaking our laws?” Bilbray said during an interview the day after the election at a deli in the coastal community of Del Mar.
Bilbray wholeheartedly supports the immigration bill passed by the House, and Democrats believe Busby’s support for the reform plan being pushed by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) could be a liability in the the June 6 runoff. The Kennedy-McCain blueprint includes a guest-worker component, labeled by many supporters of the House bill as “amnesty.”