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Can Busby Win This Time?

— Tonight I’ll attend what’s billed as the first and only debate between the major party candidates in San Diego County’s 50th Congressional District. The candidates are incumbent Republican Brian Bilbray and Democrat Francine Busby.

If that gives you a feeling of déjà vu, you spend way too much time paying attention to local politics.

But… you’re right. Bilbray and Busby have run against each other before. Twice, in fact, in the year 2006. Both of them ran in a special election that year to replace the former 50th District Congressman, the disgraced Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Bilbray won that race. He also beat Busby in the general election that quickly followed.

This year, the Democrats are working hard to keep a brave face in the 50th. But most people I know say the Dems had their chance and they aren’t likely to get another one, barring some dramatic change in demographics and party registration in that conservative North County region.

In 2008, the Democrats ran a young guy named Nick Leibham. He looked promising in a year when Republicans were destined to get clobbered for a bad economy, high-profile scandals, and a weak presidential candidate. Leibham got within 4 percentage points of defeating Bilbray. But he still lost.

So what are Francine Busby’s chances this year, when the Democrats are destined to get clobbered for a bad economy, an unpopular president, etc? Probably not so good.

Furthermore, as Mesa College political science professor Carl Luna points out, politicians who run for office and lose are very unlikely to win those offices in the future. Luna says Richard Nixon was the exception that proved the rule.

“Brian Bilbray, meanwhile, has all the advantages of incumbency (money) without the major liability for incumbents this time around (he's not a Democrat and hasn't been part of the Washington majority),” Luna said in an email to me last week.

Tomorrow, I’ll let you know what the candidates had to say about the issues.

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