Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Bilbray Plays It Cool in Midst of Tough California Race

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Port Commissioner Scott Peters (center) hopes to rebrand San Diego as a destination for young professionals. The mix of business, military and environmental interests creates a district where partisanship is a turnoff, both candidates in the race said.

“It drives them crazy when they see that my ads have me surfing — because their stereotype doesn’t stick on this one,” Bilbray said. “They grab their Washington stereotype, come out thinking they’re running against the John Culbersons or the typical Republican, and I don’t fit their mold, so it’s kind of hard for them to hit the target.”

Republican Rep. John Culberson serves a Houston-area district in Texas.

Peters is indeed painting Bilbray as one of the more partisan figures on Capitol Hill, usually in reference to Bilbray signing Grover Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has hammered Bilbray on television for spending the six-year break in his Congressional tenure as a lobbyist.

“I’ve been carpet-bombed before,” Bilbray said.

The San Diego airwaves are packed with punches in this race, but it’s going both ways. On this day, Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform, announced it had purchased $1.6 million in television time on behalf of Bilbray. That’s on top of the more than $4 million in independent expenditures already logged by outside groups from both parties, with more to come. 

Peters called the ATR ad, which will be slamming the Democrat for the next two weeks on Medicare cuts, further verification that there is less hope for compromise with Bilbray in Congress. “You can’t party with the tea party and then claim you’re a moderate, and I think people are going to see that,” Peters said.

Bilbray and the National Republican Congressional Committee continue to tie Peters to the pension crisis San Diego found itself in a decade ago, when Peters was in his first term on the city council. And Bilbray is connecting the pension underfunding to the entitlement reform conversation on Capitol Hill.

“You send him to Washington when Social Security and Medicare is being threatened, I mean there’s no way for voters to go back and correct the mistake if it happens in Washington like it was able to do in the city,” Bilbray said.

Peters, who admits he made a mistake, also compared the situation with what’s happening in Congress. But he points to the city’s banning of pension underfunding, changing the pension system for new employees and continuing to work its way out of the hole.

“I know a lot of people there have to be scared about what’s coming,” Peters said of Capitol Hill. “But I think, in San Diego, we have a lot of lessons we can teach. You couldn’t say that in 2003, but you can say that today. That’s why he’s always pointing his finger back there to divert attention from Congress in 2012.”

Tom Shepard is a veteran Republican consultant now helping to run the San Diego mayoral campaign of Rep. Bob Filner (D). He ran all of Bilbray’s Congressional campaigns from 1994 to 2000 and both of Peters’ city council campaigns, he said.

“My sense is that it’s close right now, but that Peters probably has a slight edge,” Shepard said. “All the polling I’ve seen in the last month shows Obama up somewhere between 17 and 20 points in the city and probably slightly less in the Congressional district but still well ahead.”

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