In the special-election race for the US House district in northern San Diego County, California, vacated by the Crooked Duke, national Democrats are planning to assist leading Democratic candidate Francine Busby. The theory is that the district, which will vote in a first round on April 11, could be a bellweather of Democrats’ national ambitions to make gains on a “culture of corruption” theme later in 2006. But the strategy is hardly without risk: The district is so safe that it is hard to imagine an upset. In fact, that is exactly what it would be: an upset of major proportions, if the Democrats were to win this seat.
National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee communications director Carl Forti notes, “You are not going to defeat someone by saying they are from the same party as Tom DeLay and Cunningham —- that is not a reason to vote against someone.” That is probably right. The district’s majority will be happy with any of several Republicans in the running for the seat.
Meanwhile, local Democratic leaders are not happy that a second Democrat has entered the race in addition to Busby. A local activist, Matt O’Connor, said,
“It’s already too late for Republicans, but Democrats (had) a chance to have a single candidate on the ballot,” [...] adding that the prospect of a split Democratic vote is a “real concern.”
Really, it shouldn’t be much of a concern. It would actually be easier for Busby (or any Democrat) to win this race in a runoff than in the first round. In fact, the “runoff primary” system that California uses for special legislative elections has the unusual feature of providing a higher threshold for victory in the first round than in the runoff–the reverse of every other type of runoff system in use. A candidate must win a majority of all votes cast for the race to end in one round. Failing a majority, the top vote-getter from each registered party advances to a runoff, in which a plurality suffices. In the CA-50, this runoff will be the same day (in June) as the closed-party primary for the regular general election in November.
The (very faint) hopes that Democrats have in this race have always been that either:
(1) the Republican nominee is too far to the right for even this district, such that moderate Republicans and independents defect to Busby in June, or
(2) there is a third-party candidate in the runoff who splits the Republican vote and lets Busby win with less than 50%.
In other words, Democratic voters, in the first round, ought to rally behind the most far-right Republican candidate–given that the leading vote-getter within the party could have 15% or so of the total votes cast–or find a Gilchrist-like candidate to back tactically, rather than worry about another of their own jumping into the race.
Even if one of the above scenarios were to turn out, Republicans could correct it in the June primary by nominating someone else (in an election in which only their own registered voters may participate) and thus have a stronger candidate against short-termer Busby in November.
The idea that Busby could get a majority in the first round was always fantasy, whether she is the lone Democrat or one of several running.
The national Democratic party is in a real bind on this. The special election means it will look like forfeiture if they don’t get involved, yet it will be spun as a major defeat for their fall theme of a “culture of corruption” when they lose.
Previously on CA-50:
Hurricane Duke (a post by Philip Kllinkner at PolySigh in July, to which I posted a lengthy comment, although I was at that time mistaken about the special-election rules for legislative races) San Diego County seeks special election in Dukeâ€™s district in April (includes the partisan voter registration data for the district)
Hurricane Duke (a post by Philip Kllinkner at PolySigh in July, to which I posted a lengthy comment, although I was at that time mistaken about the special-election rules for legislative races)
San Diego County seeks special election in Dukeâ€™s district in April (includes the partisan voter registration data for the district)