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California - 50th District

Incumbent -- Brian P. Bilbray (R) ; Running for re-election

Safe Republican
Race Ratings Key

Updated Dec. 29, 2009

Republican Bilbray won a June 2006 special election by nearly 5 percentage points over Democratic college instructor Francine Busby and increased his margin to nearly 10 points in a rematch that November. So Republican strategists hoped Bilbray, who previously served in the House from 1995 to 2001, would settle into an election comfort zone in the San Diego-area district.

That didn't happen in 2008. His edge shrunk back to 5 points over Democratic challenger Leibham, while district voters favored Barack Obama by 4 points as the Democratic presidential nominee. Democrats thus argue that Bilbray has no lock on the seat.

But the run-up to the 2010 election year has not gone as Democratic strategists had hoped. Their leading prospective challenger - Dave Roberts, a city councilman and former mayor in Solana Beach - dropped out of the race on Thanksgiving. Leibham, the 2008 nominee, has also passed on the race.

That leaves Busby, an educator who is seeking a third try against Bilbray, and Tracy Emblem, an appellate attorney in the Democratic field.

It has not easy for the Democrats to get an angle on Bilbray, who has sought to reach across ideological boundaries since returning to Congress. He belongs to the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership and Republicans for Choice, a group that veers from party orthodoxy by supporting abortion rights. But he also joins most House Republicans as a member of conservative Republican Study Group, which has a strongly conservative outlook.

Democratic campaign strategists got an early start in this election cycle at trying to chip away at Bilbray's support base and portray him as too far right for the 50th District. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) ran radio, e-mail and phone campaigns in February and June criticizing Bilbray for his vote against the economic stimulus legislation pushed into law by Obama in February. They also launched an automated phone call campaign in early August inferring that campaign contributions Bilbray has received from insurance companies have influenced his opposition to Democratic proposals on overhauling the nation's health care system.


District Information

District Profile from Politics in America

With its beach communities and upper-class neighborhoods, the San Diego-area 50th District combines affluent suburbs like Carlsbad, coastal areas such as Encinitas, the northern part of San Diego itself, and inland Escondido and San Marcos, which are tucked within the district's northeast curve.

The area's wealth is a testament to one of the state's top technology sectors. With national economic downturns, the technology industry in San Diego has suffered losses, and San Diego County has seen rising unemployment. But the area has weathered the recession better than other regions because of its diversified economy. The growth of technology companies and computer firms, combined with established military and defense contracting, has helped stabilize the area.

Northern San Diego hosts some of the city's renewable-energy firms. Home construction has long been profitable in the north San Diego region but has slowed recently. The mild climate of the coastal area is friendly to commercial production of flowers and fruits.

Unlike San Diego's south side, the 50th is mostly white, although there is a growing Hispanic population and illegal immigration is an issue here. The 50th's conservative corridor runs north and south along Interstate 15, including the Marine Corps base in Miramar (shared with the 52nd).Coastal cities such as Del Mar, Carlsbad and Encinitas, where beach pollution and the environment are issues, add liberals to the district.

In a district where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by 10 percentage points, Democrat Barack Obama narrowly edged out John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.

Major Industry

Technology, defense, manufacturing, tourism, agriculture

Military Bases

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, 7,785 military, 664 civilian (2010) (shared with the 52nd)


San Diego (pt.), 289,098; Escondido (pt.); Carlsbad, 105,328; San Marcos (pt.), 83,734; Encinitas, 59,518


Carlsbad is home to the Legoland theme park.




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