SAN DIEGO -- The baroque process of picking a replacement for jailed Republican Rep. Randy "Duke'' Cunningham has made California's 50th Congressional District inscrutable. It will be deciphered by the evening of June 6.
On April 11, the district voted on 18 candidates -- 14 of them Republicans. If one had received more than 50 percent, he or she would have Cunningham's seat, at least until this November's election. Democrat Francine Busby, 55, a women's studies lecturer who in 2004 won 36 percent running against Cunningham, finished first, but with only 43.7 percent, about what Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry won in the 50th in 1996, 2000 and 2004 -- 45, 43 and 44, respectively. So Republicans heaved sighs of relief, thinking the seat is safe. They sighed prematurely.
On June 6, Busby faces Brian Bilbray, 55, who led all Republicans on April 11. The 14 Republicans won 53.5 percent of the vote, but Bilbray -- who from 1995-2001 represented the neighboring 49th District -- won just 15.3 percent. And Eric Roach, 43, a wealthy self-financing candidate, won 14.5 percent.
But June 6 is California's primary day. While the 50th will elect either Busby or Bilbray to a six-month term, Democratic voters also will nominate Busby to be on the November ballot seeking a full term. Republicans, picking their November nominee from among 10 of the 14 Republicans who were on the April 11 ballot, might nominate not Bilbray but Roach, if Roach campaigns for the June 6 nomination.
Roach says that after April 11, when the Republican establishment rallied around Bilbray, Darrell Issa, the Republican who now represents the 49th, threatened to "bury'' Roach if he did not quit campaigning. Roach, unamused by such pressure to disappear, says 45,000 of the 73,000 votes cast for Republicans April 11 were for conservatives. He is one (pro-life and aghast at spending by the Republican-controlled Congress) and he says Bilbray is not because Bilbray is pro-choice and "has voted for many tax increases.''
And Bilbray, since losing the 49th district in 2000, has been a Washington lobbyist, with a home in Northern Virginia, where his children attended school. Because Busby is running against the Republicans' "culture of corruption,'' which to many people means lobbyists, Roach says "her whole premise goes away'' if he, Roach, is the Republican candidate in November.