Republican Brian Bilbray won the special election in California Tuesday to replace convicted bribe-taker Randy "Duke" Cunningham in a race that should have been closer than it was and one that should tell Democrats they still have their work cut out for them if they hope to recapture control the House and Senate in November.
In normal times, a Republican like Bilbray would have cruised to an easy victory. The GOP holds the advantage in voter registration in the San Diego district and the party of the elephant spent $10 million of the $15 million the special election cost. And while his 4.5 percent margin of victory (49.5 to 45) was larger than the pundits and polls forecast, the party at the National Republican Congressional Committee in Washington was muted at best.
But the party poppers stayed in the box over at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as well. Democrats will argue they kept the race close and won a moral victory but politics ain’t horseshoes and the only thing that matters in the end is who won and who lost. The dems had the ammunition – an unpopular war in Iraq, a Republican president with crappy approval ratings and an open seat once held by a corrupt Congressman who is the poster boy for moral decay in Washington. Yet they couldn’t close the deal and the loss should show the Democrats that it will take more than wishful thinking to win the big one in November.
With the right candidate, Cunningham’s seat could have been easy pickings for the Democrats but Francine Busby, whose political experience is basically a seat on the local school board, was this year’s John Kerry – a clueless novice who conducted her campaign like a virgin at an orgy.
In the closing days of the campaign, Busby told a public gathering of Hispanics they didn’t "need papers" to vote for her, a clear message that illegals could cast ballots if they wanted and Bilbray’s campaign made the most of the gaffe.
While Cunningham’s congressional district is considered sacred Republican territory, George W. Bush pulled in only 55 percent of the vote in 2004 and Bilbray’s vote was not that far behind in a race where a third party candidate pulled votes away. The hoped-for conservative GOP backlash didn’t rise up and show its displeasure. Neither did the groundswell of Democratic and independent vote.
In the end, Republicans maintained status quo, albeit an expensive one, and the Democrats should have learned it will take more than just calling Bush a crook and a liar to win in November.
Voters will need a viable alternative when they walk into the polling booth for the mid-term elections. They will want more than just threats to impeach an incumbent President who will be gone in two years anyway.
The voters know Congress and Washington is a cesspool of corruption and that such corruption has thrived under the GOP leadership on both the Hill and in the White House.
Voters also know the Democrats looked the other way for far too long while the William Jeffersons, Alan Mollohans and Corrine Browns broke the rules and brought disgrace into the halls of Congress. They can read the report released Wednesday by the Center for Public Integrity and see a lot of Democrats living large on free trips from fatcat special interest groups.
The voters want change but they aren’t yet willing to grant that change unless it means an end to the old way of doing things. As yet, the Democrats haven’t convinced enough voters that they are up to the job.