Throughout Washington, GOP officials Wednesday shared a widespread sense of relief after Republican Brian Bilbray defeated Democrat Francine Busby in Tuesday's vote to succeed former GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who resigned after pleading guilty to corruption charges last year. Most analysts cautioned against reading too much into a race that amounted to Republicans holding serve by retaining control of a district that has voted reliably Republican. But the outcome may have demonstrated the limits of Democrats' ability to parlay President Bush's unpopularity and the public's disdain for a scandal-racked Congress into concrete gains in districts that have leaned toward the GOP." The fact is, there are no moral victories in American politics; either you win, or you don't," said Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.Bilbray's victory denied Democrats what they had been seeking most from the race — evidence that the bleak poll numbers for Bush and Congress will translate into the same sort of voter backlash that gave the GOP control of Capitol Hill in 1994. By the same token, independent political analyst Stuart Rothenberg cautioned that Republicans still have their work cut out for them in this year's campaign." They would be deluding themselves if they took this as evidence there was no … mood for change," Rothenberg said. Indeed, Democratic voters in Montana showed a willingness to shake the status quo in choosing their candidate to run against GOP Sen. Conrad Burns, who is in political trouble because of his links to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Democratic voters soundly rejected an establishment candidate embroiled in a scandal of his own in favor of a nominee who appears better equipped to make ethics an issue against Burns. The California result was sufficiently mixed to justify optimism and concern in each party.The San Diego Union-Tribune argues that Bilbray's victory Tuesday confirms speculation that illegal immigration will be a deciding election issue this year:
From the very beginning, the special election in the 50th Congressional District was dogged by the question of illegal immigration. Republican Brian Bilbray reclaimed a seat in the House because he maintained a markedly tougher stance against undocumented migrants than did Democrat Francine Busby. All other claims about this high-profile contest, by both Democratic and Republican operatives in Washington, are pure spin. The voters' own strong stand against illegal immigration is the national message, if there is one, in the balloting to replace imprisoned former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham. The outcome of this knockdown bout, marred by millions of dollars in venomous television commercials thrust on voters by the Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees, will not be lost on GOP leaders in the House. Bilbray's victory can only stiffen their resolve to reject the Senate's much more lenient approach to illegal immigration. Bilbray emphatically embraced the House-passed immigration bill, which would strengthen enforcement by beefing up border security and imposing stiffer fines on employers who hire undocumented workers. The measure contains no amnesty provisions for the estimated 12 million, and growing, illegal immigrant population. In sharp contrast, Busby endorsed the Senate-passed bill, which seeks to legalize most undocumented workers and their families. Her ill-advised remarks late in the campaign telling a largely Latino crowd they did not need papers to vote may have further undermined her standing on the immigration issue. At any rate, the prospects of the Senate's “earned amnesty” provisions reaching President Bush's desk are distinctly dimmer in light of Busby's defeat.Kentucky's Lexington Herald-Leader reaffirms the consensus that Tuesday's results were unlike those from the 1994 electoral earthquake:
Republicans won a much-watched California special election Tuesday for an open U.S. House of Representatives seat, sending a signal that they can still win and might be able to hold control of Congress this fall even though national polls show them in deep trouble. Republican Brian Bilbray defeated Democrat Francine Busby in a contest that both parties treated as a test of message, issues and political machinery for November's congressional elections. Bilbray won 49-45 percent. The bottom line: Republicans held the seat in the solidly Republican suburban San Diego district despite a major push by Democrats to take it, but they had to spend more than $4 million to do it, and their vote dropped from past elections. But if anger and anxiety over Iraq, gas prices or immigration is creating a throw-the-bums-out mood across the country, as national polls suggest, the California election suggested that it hasn't swelled into the kind of tidal wave that would sweep Republicans out of safe districts.Also, the Washington Post's Dan Balz and Jonathan Weisman note that the GOP can rest a little easier after Bilbray's victory:
A special election for a House district in California left Republicans with control of the seat, while offering scant evidence of the highly energized Democratic electorate that analysts say would be needed to dislodge the GOP from power on Capitol Hill in November. Fearing humiliation in a race that drew national attention, the National Republican Congressional Committee pumped about $5 million into the race to replace imprisoned former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham. But by late Tuesday night on the West Coast, it proved to be money well-spent after former congressman Brian Bilbray won with 49 percent of the vote in the traditionally Republican district. Democrat Francine Busby's 45 percent total barely improved on Sen. John F. Kerry's showing there in the 2004 presidential election. The results settled Republican nerves, which have been set on edge by months of nearly relentless bad omens, including corruption scandals and dismal poll ratings for President Bush and the GOP leadership in Congress. For Democrats, it highlighted how difficult it could be to translate generally favorable national trends into tangible victories on the ground. Democratic congressional leaders and operatives said they were heartened at least by the amount of money Republicans spent -- about twice the Democrats' total -- to protect a seat they have previously won with ease.