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Bilbray and Busby Face Off Again in 50th District


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In June, voters elected Republican Brian Bilbray in a special election to fill the seat left by Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who is now serving prison time for accepting $2.4 million in bribes. Now, Bilbray and June challenger Francine Busby are facing off again. Reporter Rebecca Tolin takes a look at the race.

San Diegans remember the national spotlight shining on the 50th District before the special election. Political analysts called it a bellwether of the fall Congressional races. The national Democratic and Republican parties spent big bucks on their candidates. Well, much of that attention has faded since Brian Bilbray became the incumbent. But Francine Busby says it’s not over yet. A new poll shows Busby is only a few percentage points behind in this traditionally conservative district.

Clint Stoddard, 50th District resident: I grew up here. Since '61, I've been living in this area, so I've seen a lot of changes and it’s gone from pretty sleepy little towns to well-to-do neighborhoods.

The 50th District is one of the ten wealthiest in the state. It stretches from Claremont Mesa in the south east to La Jolla in the southwest corner, then up the coast to Carlsbad and east to Escondido. Not surprisingly, the affluent North County region leans Republican.

Kent Sharp, 50th District resident: North County, you got a lot of professionals, you know a lot of people want to live by the ocean, certainly they have environmental concerns but general, your conservative base here in North County and it’s not the far right.

Brian Bilbray: There's no surf!

Republican Brian Bilbray hopes to use the political leanings to his advantage.

Francine Busby: The need for change is more urgent than ever and I'm sure you would agree.

While Democrat Francine Busby says people here are ready for change. The Cardiff School Board member points to a culture of corruption in the White House and Republican led Congress. Busby says failing efforts in Iraq require new leadership.

Francine Busby: I think the first thing we need to do is to listen to the generals. After they come home and get out of the military, we're hearing very clearly from them that what we're doing now is not working. We've been in Iraq longer than we've been in World War Two. We're spending $8 billion a month and we need to listen to them and we need to change the strategy so we can transition Iraq to an independent country as quickly as possible.

Brian Bilbray: I've read the security reports that are classified and the number one rule that every one of them says is that we cannot cut and run at this time. We need to make sure we need to continue to fight terrorists off U.S. soil and make sure this battle continues there and not here, but to get out as soon as we allow the Iraqis to fight the terrorists themselves.

Bilbray says it’s unrealistic to set a time frame in Iraq. The former Imperial Beach Mayor, Congressman, and lobbyist, is running on an anti-illegal immigration platform. From his Sorrento Valley campaign headquarters, Bilbray talks about cracking down on illegal employment if re-elected. He supported a bill to construct a 700-mile barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Brian Bilbray: Happily, I was able to get the Senate and the House of Representatives to abandon the amnesty proposal that was out there. Even the Senators who originally proposed the amnesty package then realized what a huge mistake it was, that it gave Social Security benefits, it gave earned income tax credit to where an illegal could get $4,000 a year for the time they were here illegally.

Francine Busby: What we need to do is stop illegal immigration at the border. We cannot have half a million people coming here a year, illegally. We must enforce employment at the workplace, but we also need a worker program, especially here in San Diego and around the country, so that if we need low-skill, low-cost workers, there's a legal and orderly process for that to occur.

Bubsy supports the Senate bill, offering limited work visas to qualifying immigrants needed for low-wage work. Close to home, the candidates share similar views on a civilian airport at Miramar Air Station on the southern tip of the District.

Francine Busby: The Marines have made it very clear that we are not going to have joint-use of Miramar right now or in the near future. So I think that national security has to come first. But, of course, they're a huge presence here in San Diego so I would continue to work with them and have dialogues with them about all the different ways we interact, but right now it’s not on the table.

Brian Bilbray: The Marine Corps is going to be using that base for the next decade, that to talk about trying to place a civilian airport in with all the jets and the helicopters there just doesn't work out. And every member of Congress that has served in the last 10 years in San Diego has opposed the concept of joint use.

By the numbers, any Republican would enjoy a substantial lead in the 50th District. The GOP has a 14-point voter registration lead here. But Francine Busby points out she only lost by 4.5 percentage points in the special election. A recent survey/USA poll shows Bilbray leads 49 percent to Busby’s 46 percent. That’s quite a jump for Busby.

Five weeks earlier, she trailed by 14 points, with only 40 percent support from registered voters. Busby and the Democratic party of San Diego County suspect a grand jury is investigating Bilbray’s residency. Democrats don’t offer proof and the DA’s office can’t confirm that.

But Democrats point to legal documents showing Bilbray has designated three different locations as his primary residence. In his voter registration and declaration of candidacy Bilbray lists this home – his mother’s house on Unicornio Street in Carlsbad -- as his residence. Other documents show a house in Imperial Beach and another in Virginia. Democrats suggest a pattern of perjury or voter fraud which Bilbray denies.

Brian Bilbray: I've been living for over a year in Carlsbad. I've consistently lived at that location and my neighbors know that. The sad part about it, come election time, just a few days before every election like they did before, the Democratic Party tries desperately to attack somebody's personality and integrity.

Francine Busby: We had this cycle of difficult elections, $50 million have been spent in campaigns, all because Cunningham didn't tell the truth, he didn't tell it early and we were put through this. And so if Mr. Bilbray is being investigated as witnesses have called us to tell us, then he needs to be honest and have full disclosure.

Bilbray says he has no knowledge of a grand jury investigation. Voters we surveyed had already made up their minds.

Clint Stoddard, 50th District resident: I'm voting for Francine Busby because I believe in what she stands for, and I'm a Democrat.

Tim McNulty, 50th District resident: I'm voting for Bilbray because I support his position on the war and illegal immigration and Bilbray surfs, Busby doesn't surf.

The other candidates in the race are Miriam Clark with the Peace and Freedom Party. The Encinitas resident says she joined the race to highlight her opposition to the war in Iraq. And Libertarian Paul King of Carlsbad supports government transparency and troop withdrawal from Iraq.

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