Peters Appears To Unseat Bilbray In 52nd Congressional Race
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Joining me is Mesa College political science professor, Carl Luna. Upon the race for San Diego's 52nd congressional seat was in the national spotlight in this election. Both parties believe the district's new boundaries might put the seat in play. And in play, it still may be! Democrat Scott Peters leads Brian Bilbray but fewer than 700 votes. Carl, we invited both Scott Peters and Brian Bilbray to join us today. But they both declined most likely because this race is so close and they don't really know what the outcome is going to be yet! If you could, give us some background on how this district's demographics have changed and how that might influence who wins. LUNA: When the state adopted the citizen redistricting commission, the idea was to develop some districts which would be truly competitive, instead of pure Democrat or Republican, which would drive you toward the general center: Not many districts got affected that way because we've separated ourselves as a state into Republican and democratic neighborhoods. This is one of a handful in the country that was competitive. It breaks down to 1/3 Republican, 1/3 Democrat, and 1/3 Independent. At the end of the day, you saw both candidates move toward the center, which was intended. It has no impact oft control of the house. But it was like a moral victory for whoever could preserve this under the circumstances. CAVANAUGH: We've spoke with San Diego County registrar of voters Deborah Seiler in our first segment. She was talking to us about how they'll be counting these mail-in ballots that were delivered to the polls, and the provisional ballots. And she put the number at over 400,000 which we all thought was high. LUNA: Astoundingly high. CAVANAUGH: But considering 500,000 mail-in ballots had been sent out, does that number still trike you as high? LUNA: It does. But if this is the case, we have to reconceptualize how we're doing the voting and the counting. That many ballots are coming in that late, let's not even talk about outcome until the following week. About 200,000 ballots have been counted in this race. There's only about 300,000 registered voters or thereabouts, assuming a 60% voter turnout, there's maybe between 40 to 70,000 outstanding ballots. In the mayor's race, that wouldn't really matter. In this race, that could be very significant depending on how they trend out. But usually the later votes do trend more democratic. Of CAVANAUGH: Right. Talk to us a little bit about the kind of money that was poured into this race. As I said, it was of national significance. Both Republicans wanted to keep Brian Bilbray in Congress and the Democrats wanted a new democratic Congressman from San Diego County. And we saw an awful lot of advertising, an awful lot of money in this race. LUNA: It either set a record or was close to the record for any race in San Diego County. Millions of dollars from outside. A lot of hot and dirty money. Most of those ads went -- most of the moneys went into very negative ad-buys. And it was a moral sort of victory thing, though some of the tactics used in this these ads weren't of the highest moral quality. CAVANAUGH: Everybody who turned on their TV in the last couple weeks probably caught a couple of them, and we did a segment on that, how they were notable for trying to hit somebody on an emotional little, having very little to do with the substance or the actual policy of either of the candidates. LUNA: Well, when you fight the intellectual campaign, these are my policies and that doesn't get you traction, at the end of the day, you start throwing mud. And there was a lot of money to make a lot of money, and a lot of mud got flung. CAVANAUGH: Whoever wins this race, they're going to have to deal with the fact that not only was it a tight race here in San Diego County but Scott Peters, if he goes to Washington, will have to deal with the fact that he's in a Republican-controlled Congress. Scott Peters talked to us last night and spoke to us about how he was thinking about reaching across the aisle. NEW SPEAKER: That's been my record. I've always worked with everybody. And whether it's buildings downtown or cleaning up beaches and bays or finishing Highway 56, expanding the Convention Center, it's an attitude that you take. Listen, I'm not going to discount what you say just because you're in the other party. I'm going to think about how we can solve this party together. As Americans we have a lot of places that we want to go that we can agree about. We just sometimes disagree about how to get there. And I think it's an attitude that you take. I think it's something that we've developed in San Diego and expect here. And we can take that to Washington. CAVANAUGH: And that was from golden hall last night. Brian Bilbray told KPBS last night what he'll be doing if he loses. NEW SPEAKER: I've got a sail boat and surf boards that need a workout. But who do I find to take care of things like the cancer research emphasis that we're doing? When we talk about things like clean energy, who do I find in the Republican party that's going to take on those issue ares? That's going to be a setback. But I'll done to work on these issues. CAVANAUGH: So Carl, even if he does ultimately lose, Brian Bilbray has already sort of bounced back, shown his capacity to have several lives in politics. LUNA: Well, yeah. Well Bilbray when he lost his seat to Susan Davis did a couple of years in lobbying. That's one of my lessons to my students about being a Congressman. He traded like a $300,000 job working a few days a week to go into Congress at a lot less pay and less hours, he loses the power. He'll find a career in Washington. He's well-connected within the party, and it's all sort of a reward for being a faithful foot soldier. CAVANAUGH: Speaking of Susan Davis, she won reelection in the 53rd, handily. Also Republicans dunk an hunter and Darryl Issa easily won reelection to Congress. LUNA: In the case of Issa, it was by a smaller margin than in previous races. CAVANAUGH: I noticed that. Why? LUNA: Apparently the way the district has been drawn as brought in enough additional voters to change the demographics. And North County San Diego has a rising Latino population which probably helps Democrats. I don't know more about it because none of us paid attention to the race. We assumed Issa would win. But that's a sign that there is some shifting going on. I don't recall it being a particularly strong challenger. CAVANAUGH: Juan Vargas. The first district didn't get much attention or much money. It had been represented by Bob Filner for about 20 years. Now Juan Vargas has become the first Latino elected to San Diego's congressional delegation. That's startling to understand. But that is the case. Here's what he said about his victory last night. NEW SPEAKER: Obviously right now we have the issue of the budget. There's a budget crisis in DC, and we have to do something about that. And that's going to be first on the agenda. However we have to take a look at immigration. And I represent the border area in the Senate, and I represent the border area now in Congress. And we have to do something about so many people that live in the shadows. Good people, hard-working people, people that are very productive but that can be even more productive if we regularize their status here. CAVANAUGH: He is the victor in the first district in San Diego county. Shirley weber is the first African American elected to the state assembly from San Diego. She'll be representing the 17th assembly district. And maybe we can talk about what's happened statewide in the California assembly elections. Do Democrats have a super majority? LUNA: To tell you the truth, I haven't even looked that far ahead! [ LAUGHTER ] LUNA: I've been so focused on the local races. I could find out in 30 seconds of Google searching. But I believe they got close to the super majority. They need at least two thirds to get anything done, and they were right near that before this election. And they've picked up seats across the state. CAVANAUGH: If they have the made that transition, what does that mean? LUNA: It makes it easier to pass a budget. That becomes the big issue. Right now, a minority of Republicans have power over the budget. The assembly and Senate, democratic majorities have grown, it puts Jerry Brown in a stronger position to shape the budget, particularly the extra infusion of cash coming in from prop 30. California went pretty much a 30-point swing for Barack Obama: It's a very democratic state. And state Republicans really have to retool if they're going to be relevant. Of CAVANAUGH: And Carl Luna will be Googling that. [ LAUGHTER ] CAVANAUGH: The San Diego City Council had only one seat in play on election day. The Democrat pulled out a victory again! >> It was thought that in the Leitner/Ellis race, that council woman Leitner was in a disadvantage because she came in second in the primaries. And that district has a strong Republican presence, and it wasn't even close. It was by over 9 points. This is the first time we have had a democratic council and a democratic mayor I think in the history of the city. CAVANAUGH: In the history of the city! >> In living memory, I cannot think back prior to the 1950s and '40s. Maybe in the '30s it was the case. My memory doesn't go back that far. In modern times, this is a precedent setter, and it could be a permanent condition in a rapidly changing city and county. CAVANAUGH: I spoke with -- we had both Ray Ellis and Sherri Lightner on the program, and one of the questions I put to Sherri Lightner was you did not win in the primary, what message does this send about what your constituents think about what you've been doing on the City Council? And she said no message because there were other people in the race and I'm going to win when it comes to November! So basically she didn't feel that that was any kind of repudiation. LUNA: Yeah, with a 3-person race, she came in second and apparently split off the vote with a higher voter turnout. A lot more voters participated this time around. It was less than a 35% turnout in June. That's one of the problems with primaries. They are not representative of the population. You got a very good sample. That district now breaks very clearly Democrat. CAVANAUGH: Here's what she had to say about her victory. NEW SPEAKER: I think the votes today show just how smart the residents of district 1 are. They do appreciate my record of service to the community, and they have paid attention to the truth of this race and not the unbelievably well-funded smear tactics that have been used. LUNA: And I finally found it. I don't have the update on it. But right now, if it's holding through last night, 54 democratic assembly seats, 27 in the seat. That would be enough for super majorities in both houses, unprecedented in modern time. Gives the Democrats real leverage in Sacramento to reshape the state. It turns Jerry Brown into a Jedi knight. CAVANAUGH: Because he can get so much of his policy through the legislator now. LUNA: Most personal. This would be a great time for him to think about running for president in 2016, except he'd be 102. [ LAUGHTER ] CAVANAUGH: Given the fact this is the first time in San Diego we have had a Democrat on the City Council and a democratic mayor, what kinds of shifts would you expect to see? LUNA: I think Mr. Filner is correct. Kind of like Jerry Brown could go to the municipal statewide employees and work out the 401K shift for them, he probably has a bit of a better leverage to go to municipal workers and say I'm the best deal you're going to get in this town. Workers will do better under a plan he'd come up with than a slash and burn which would probably come from Carl DeMaio. City outsourcing will be less of a front-burner issue. Looking into neighborhood community projects rather than focussing on a new Chargers stadium. CAVANAUGH: Right. >> Convention Centers and all the things for downtown, which helps a lot of corporate interests, not putting high jobs in the community. That may get more looking at things, public transit, libraries, traditional democratic issues will get more of an uptick. CAVANAUGH: And let's leave it right there. We have to take a short break and come back. When we do, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has had the same elected officials for the last 20 years. But no more!
Democratic Port Commissioner Scott Peters appears to have unseated Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Solana Beach, in the 52nd District, but with fewer than 700 votes separating the two, it was unclear if remaining vote by mail ballots and provisional ballots might ultimately change the outcome. The full count could take up to a month, though the race is likely to be called sooner.
Peters had money. He threw more than $2 million of his own money into the campaign. Last night he started out more than 3 points behind Bilbray, who led 51 to 48 in the early going. But over the course of five hours the gap narrowed, and by 2 a.m. Peters took the lead.
Peters said that's how his elections always go His victory to reach the San Diego City Council a decade ago was close, too.
"Mine seem to last many hours and sometimes days," Peters said. "I was the first Democrat elected to the 1st District; my margin of victory in the first one was 309. Ive just been through a lot of these ... they work out but it takes a while."
The contest for the new district between the Democrat Peters and the Republican Bilbray has been tight and heated since the June primary, and has attracted national attention. Because the Congressional seat is one of the few Republican seats seen as vulnerable, Super PACs on both sides have plowed millions into the race.
Bilbray did not concede last night.
But he talked generally, saying that whoever wins will have their work cut out in Congress.
Asked what he would do if he lost after being a congressman for 12 years, Bilbray said:
"I've got a sailboat and surfboards that need a lot of work out. The trouble is who do I find to take care of things like the cancer research emphasis that we're doing? When we talk about things like clean energy, who do I find in the Republican Party that's willing to take on those issues?
"But, no, I'll continue to work on these issues like I did when the voters gave me a five year sabbatical."
Bilbray was referring to the period after he lost his last congressional seat to Democrat Susan Davis after that district's boundaries were redrawn ten years ago.
Created by last year’s redistricting process, the 52nd district includes Coronado, Point Loma, Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and parts of North County, including Poway and Rancho Bernardo.
Bilbray, who currently represents the 50th district, was running for the newly redrawn 52nd, which has no incumbent. Peters is currently a San Diego’s Port commissioner.
The two candidates hold sharply different views on a variety of issues, including pension reform, social security and Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act.
During a KPBS debate in March, Peters said he would support overturning the Supreme Court’s unrestricted-campaign-financing decision, “Citizens United,” while Bilbray said, although he does not like the decision, he will abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling.
"I accept it, I don't like it, but that's what being American is all about," he said.
Peters expressed support for President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act, saying there is “a lot to like” in the act, but that the government needs to work on cutting its cost. Bilbray said he does not like the act, and that government should have worked harder to negotiate with insurance companies and to get “trial lawyers out of the operating rooms.”
Bilbray voted last January to repeal the act.
Peters said he supports same-sex marriage; Bilbray said he does not. Both Peters and Bilbray do not support legalizing marijuana, a point that has pitted Bilbray against his daughter Briana, who is a terminal cancer patient. Briana Bilbray appeared in a controversial ad endorsing her father's campaign in October.
During separate KPBS interviews in October, Peters said the U.S. needs an immigration policy that is “tough, fair to taxpayers and practical.”
As chairman of the powerful Immigration Reform Caucus, Bilbray has taken hard anti-immigrant stances. Immigrant rights activists put pressure on Bilbray during his campaign for his stance on immigration.