The Macon Telegraph, Ga., Charles E. Richardson Column
By Charles E. Richardson, The Macon Telegraph, Ga.
Apr. 11–CALIFORNIA PROPHECY?: When traveling south of Los Angeles on Interstate 5 through Anaheim, Santa Ana, Tustin, Laguna Hills and Oceanside, the Pacific Ocean is on your right, but on the left is one of the most Republican areas of the state.
California has 53 Congressional Districts. Thirty-two of the state’s seats are filled with Democrats, but along this stretch, from District 40 to 53, there are only four Democrats. That could change today.
A special election is being held to replace disgraced Republican Randy “Duke” Cunningham in California’s 50th Congressional District. He was found to be elbow-deep in the cookie jar. Cunningham pleaded guilty last year to bribery and tax evasion charges in connection with steering millions of dollars in government contracts in exchange for a home and a boat. When found out, according to prosecutors, he tried to tamper with witnesses. Now he’s doing an eight-year stint in federal prison.
Into that scenario walks soccer mom Francine Busby, a Democrat, who ran against Cunningham in 2004 and was badly beaten. Now she’s leading in the polls against 17 other candidates, 14 of them Republican. The rest of the field is made up of a Libertarian, an independent and a Democrat.
This is a test market for the Democrats. The outcome of this race might predict how far it can take the tag line, “Culture of Corruption,” into the fall elections. Busby has been pointing out the travails of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his best buddy, lobbyist Jack Abramoff. However, she has not been overly candid about her own political affiliation, not even identifying herself as a Democrat in her campaign ads.
But what’s most interesting about this race is the Republicans’ stance. According to the Washington Post, they are distancing themselves from their commander-in-chief. “Nine of them identified themselves as ‘Reagan Republicans,’ the paper said, and one, Brian Bilbray, “accused President Bush of ‘criminal neglect’ in dealing with illegal immigration.”
Both national parties are spending a lot of money. The Democrats want Busby to get over the 50 percent mark and avoid a runoff. Republicans want just the opposite. They feel if they can get in a runoff, the GOP edge (44 percent of the voters are Republican, 30 percent Democrat and 21 percent no party affiliation) they will win out. If that doesn’t happen and Busby pulls out a win, Amy Walter, the senior editor at the Washington-based Cook Political Report, told the Post, “that would be the political equivalent of a tectonic shift. The next story you would hear is this is the first rumblings in what would be a major earthquake in November.”
The reason for Busby’s tactics are simple, and so is the reason her Democratic supporters have helped raise $1.4 million: They want to see if the president’s low approval rating (36 percent) will have an effect come November. If Busby’s campaign rhetoric is successful, we can bet more of it will be heard leading up to the mid-term elections.
For Republicans, the mass demonstrations Monday by Hispanics upset over House Resolution 4437, which would make it a felony to be in the United States illegally and a crime to help the undocumented, could not have come at a worse time. The Hispanic population of the 50th Congressional District, just north of San Diego, is almost 19 percent, and crowd estimates for Monday’s march in California’s second largest city, from Balboa Park to the County Administration Center, were as high as 100,000.
Experts say the results of today’s election may hinge on which side gets its voters to the polls, and the energy from Monday’s march may continue to flow away from the field of Republicans.
If Busby pulls it off, her campaigning will have just begun. Whoever finally sits down to represent the district will have to campaign again for the November elections.
The one thing this special election may forecast is that this mid-term election season will be the most expensive — and the most nasty — of any to date. And in the end, that will turn off more voters than it will turn on.
Charles E. Richardson’s columns appear Tuesday and Sunday. He can be reached at email@example.com or 744-4342.
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