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Busby Finishes Under 50% in CA 50

Last night Democratic candidate Francine Busby failed to reach the 50% + 1 mark in her quest to take the seat formerly held by Republican Duke Cunningham. She finished in the low- to mid-40's.

Judging by the early reports on the election, the media is going to spin this as a good development for the Democrats in their quest to take the House. I could not disagree more.

The election will go to a June runoff, but this seems to me to have been the Democrats' only real chance at this seat. GOP candidates pulled in a majority of the vote -- and it is hard to imagine that not happening in June.

The Democrats had everything going for them in this election. They had a corrupt felon-incumbent, they had low turnout, they had a well-financed challenger, and they had a divided Republican field. They had a district that has, in the last 10 years, skewed Republican less and less. And they only managed to get about 8% more of the vote when they needed 14% more. In 2004, Busby pulled in 36%. This time around she won 43.9%.

This is roughly equal to how both Kerry and Gore did in the district in the last 6 years -- and roughly what you would expect a Republican-leaning district to do with an open seat election: stay Republican by a slightly smaller margin than when the incumbent is running.

There is no other way to understand this but as a loss for the Democrats.

As I mentioned in my previous post, this is the type of seat the Democrats need to capture to take the House. As a matter of fact, they will have to win tougher seats than CA 50. With a Democratic loss there, it will become harder to see a Democratic victory in open seats like IL 06, MN 06 and WI 08. These are similar in their partisan composition to CA 50 -- but, unlike CA 50, none of them have a Republican incumbent tarnished by scandal and none of them have 13 Republican candidates fighting among themselves. These open seats need to switch to the Democrats for a change in control. A Democratic takeover of the House with CA 50, IL 06, MN 06 and WI 08 off the table is unimaginable.

In actuality, then, it has been a pretty good week for the GOP. In the last seven days :

(1) Tom DeLay decided not to run for reelection, thus greatly increasing the chances that the GOP will hold TX 22.

(2) Bush's job approval seems to have hit its floor, despite (yet another) round of bad news for this embattled White House.

(3) The GOP appears poised to retain CA 50.

Just as they missed what a good week this was for the Republicans, the mainstream press will likely not see CA 50 as a major indicator of what will happen in November. But they will be wrong. It is. In my last column, I mentioned that a win in CA 50 is a necessary condition for the Democrats to retake the House: no win in CA 50, no Democratic takeover. I still hold that position.

The flip side of that is that it is a sufficient condition for the Republicans to hold the House. In other words, a Republican hold of CA 50 implies a Republican hold of the House.