Unusually for a two-round election, in California the leading candidates of all the parties in the first round go through to the second round, instead of the more commonly used method of taking the top two candidates only.
So far, so good for Republicans. The problem lies in the announcement this week that Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham has resigned his seat in Congress following his guilty plea on charges of bribery, tax evasion, mail fraud and wire fraud. He was first elected to Congress in 1990 and was serving his eighth term as a member of the House of Representatives. The Congressional seat in question is the 50th district of California, which covers the County of San Diego.
As these elections returns show from 2004, there is a sizeable Democratic vote in San Diego. If one in five Republican voters stays at home in disgust with "Duke's" ethical performance, the Democrats have a chance of picking up a seat they would otherwise not really compete for. In 2004, the presidential election would tend to have encouraged Republicans to come out and vote, whilst the comparative safety of California as a Democrat stronghold (in presidential elections at least) might have made some of their voters complacent.
Normally, I'd say that a campaign push by the Governor or even the President would be useful. However, apart from helping with fundraisers, neither Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger nor President George W. Bush would necessarily be a positive influence on this election. The recent presidential effort in Virginia for instance did raise a lot of money but failed to change the outcome. In fact, even hosting lavish fundraisers might cause a problem, given the circumstances in which this election has been provoked.
I think this is exactly the sort of election the Democrats have to take seriously.
It may be that the Republicans will hold this seat, but the least you can say is that Francine Busby is giving them a tough time. Only caveat, Governor Schwarzenegger's poll scores seem to have picked up a little.
Instead of dreaming about indicting yesterday's opponents or boasting of implausible electoral successes more than 200 days from now, if I were in the U.S., I'd be on the battle bus to San Diego, whichever side I was on.
Here's the message I'd be putting out if I was working the Democratic National Committee:
At this time, I still think it would be wildly optimistic for the Democrats to win control of either chamber in Congress. But if they keep holding their Governorships, and pick away at the Republican lead in the House of Representatives, they may hang on until 2008, when the Republicans will be defending large numbers of Senate seats, and they have as yet no clear cut presidential candidate.