The national political establishment held its breath on Tuesday night, waiting for the results of the election in San Diego to fill the Congressional seat left vacant by the bribery conviction of Duke Cunningham who, it turns out, is just one of the poster children for Congressional greed.
When the votes were counted, the Republican, former (and now future) Congressman Brian Bilbray, beat the Democrat, Francine Busby, 49% - 45% which gave spinners for both national parties a chance to flip to the correct tab in their loose leaf notebooks and pull out the pre-written talking points which best fit the result.
If any Republican tells you that the GOP didn't heave a huge sigh of relief at this result, they are lying.
If any Democrat tells you the result was not harmful to them, they are lying.
In the days following the election, Democrats were standing on the street corners in downtown Washington, DC, telling anyone who would listen that Busby's 45% was WAY over what former Democratic candidates for Congress have gotten in that district and so Nancy Pelosi is now officially measuring for drapes in the Speaker's suite.
It is true that, according to Washington political guru Charlie Cook's "Almanac of American Politics," the Democrat running against Duke Cunningham in 2002 got only 32% of the votes. Two years later the very same Francine Busby drew support from only 36% of the voters.
But, that wasn't the bar which had to be met. The test was getting a higher total than 45% which, as the other political guru in Washington, Stu Rothenberg wrote, "was right in line with past Democratic efforts in the [50th Congressional] district.
How can this be? 45% is way higher than 36%. Is Rothenberg wrong? No.
We do not measure of how Republican or Democratic a Congressional district is by how a challenger fares against an incumbent. Incumbents generally win fairly easily. In the 2002 race, for example, Cunningham got 64% of the vote but outspent his challenger $770,000 to $19,700.
One of the things technicians look at to determine a true baseline vote, is something like: How did the two candidates for President do?
In the case of California 50 in the Presidential election of 2000 Al Gore got 43% of the vote against George W. Bush's 54%. In 2004 John Kerry got 44% to Bush's 55%.
For this result to have had positive ramifications for the Democrats nationally, Busby needed to exceed that mid-40's barrier. But,
In a year when Democrat candidates for Congress have been counting on the "culture of corruption" charge to resonate against Republicans;
In a district where the seat was open specifically because the former incumbent is in the jug;
On a day when there was effectively no primary contest for Governor on the GOP side, and a huge, bitter, intense fight on the Democratic side (thus driving up turnout among Dems, but not giving Republicans any additional reason to give up a coffee break to vote);
The Democratic candidate for Congress only got the percentage of the vote which was "right in line with past efforts."
"Busby's inability to expand her vote, and GOP voters' apparent unwillingness to vote Democratic, does raise questions about whether Democrats can win in Republican-leaning districts."
Immigration, not corruption, was the major issue in California 50. San Diego is on the other side of the Mexican border from Tijuana and Bilbray made no secret about his position which, according to the Washington Times' Joseph Curl, "mirrors the House bill which would reject any sort of amnesty for illegal aliens."
According to Curl's piece:
"Conservatives, including potential Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich [emphasis, mine] called the election a clear repudiation of the Senate bill."
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and, according to the Arab News, "seven other top insurgents were killed in [a] Wednesday evening raid, a joint US-Jordanian operation."
On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the Stuart Rothenberg piece, the Washington Times article and the coverage in the Arab News on the al-Zarqawi mission. Plus a Mullfoto and a topic-appropriate Catchy Caption of the Day.