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50th District Candidates Give Circus But No Bread

— The word debate suggests a serious, ponderous discussion of important issues. But the so-called debate between candidates in San Diego’s 50th Congressional District was more like a sporting event.

The main characters last night in the auditorium of Del Norte High School were incumbent Republican Brian Bilbray and his Democratic challenger Francine Busby. They had many rhetorical clashes focusing on things like taxation and health care policy. Meanwhile, hundreds of political supporters representing all sides sat in the cheap seats and cheered or hooted whenever they heard a familiar phrase they liked or disliked.

On health care, Busby said the Obama health-reform plan, passed by Congress this year, was a great thing.

“You know, this country has finally taken a first step toward a systemic, all-encompassing health care program that will allow people in this country to have access to affordable quality health care,” she said.

Bilbray didn’t blast the bill but he dug into Obama, eliciting boos from Democrats, when he noted the requirement that all people purchase health insurance.

“Now, you do not have the right to live in the United States unless you buy a product from some business,” said Bilbray.

When it came to extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, Bilbray was for it and Busby was against it.

“This is not a tax cut,” said Bilbray. “It is avoiding a major tax increase while we're facing a huge economic crisis.”

But Busby said, “We want our infrastructure. We want the jobs that build our infrastructure. We want our taxes invested in our communities.”

It was all standard party line. There were no surprises last night.

Bilbray and Busby may have been the main characters in the show, but there were two supporting actors on the stage. The San Diego North Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the debate, was generous enough to invite Libertarian candidate Lars Grossmith, and Miriam Clark from the Peace and Freedom Party.

Grossmith and Clark have no chance of winning and their comments were even less surprising than those of Bilbray and Busby. When you’re an ideologue the world is pretty simple.

I will say that Grossmith brought some humor to the debate. Yet I always wonder if electoral debates should include all comers or just those who have proven the ability to raise money and get voters’ attention.

You may remember California’s gubernatorial recall election in 2003 when the minor party candidates, namely independent Arianna Huffington and Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, were invited to debate on TV along with the big boys. Despite all that exposure Camejo still got less than 3 percent of the vote. Huffington withdrew before the election.

I’ve never seen a third-party candidate be anything more than a side show or a spoiler.

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