In a typical election year, intense campaign activity normally does not begin until around Labor Day. Democrats and Republicans said they were struck by the level of political activity now going on. Television advertisements have been shown by candidates in at least five districts, party officials said, and there are radio and Internet advertisements popping up around the country. Moveon.org, the liberal advocacy group, began broadcasting hard-hitting advertisements attacking Republican incumbents in four states nearly three months ago and is about to start a second round on Thursday, officials with the organization said. Visits last week to three competitive districts — encompassing an endangered Republican in Pennsylvania, an endangered Democrat in Illinois and a race for an open seat in upstate New York — found incumbents and their challengers locked in debates over a strikingly wide range of issues, including the war in Iraq, tax cuts, immigration, stem cell research and raising the minimum wage. If this early pattern holds, it could undercut Republican efforts to prevent this election from becoming a national referendum on Mr. Bush and Republican policies.For Nagourney, and most national election handicappers, California's 50th congressional district is the benchmark contest. Tony Perry in last week's Los Angeles Times provided the local political background:
As voters in the 50th Congressional District look to replace incarcerated Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the candidates are talking about sending messages. Brian Bilbray, a former GOP congressman attempting a comeback, says a vote for him is a message to the Iraqi insurgents that the U.S. will not cut and run, and a message to illegal immigrants not to expect quickie citizenship. But Democratic candidate Francine Busby says voters should send a different message: A change is needed in Washington because of the quagmire in Iraq and the "culture of corruption" under Republicans and the Bush administration. Normally, this district is so Republican that Democratic strategist Donna Brazile says it's not just red, but "ruby red."However, with Bush's approval ratings severely hobbled by Iraq and other issues and Cunningham in prison for the biggest corruption case in congressional history, the GOP is running concerned, if not downright scared. A loss here, or even a close victory, could be seen as a sign that the GOP hold on Washington is slipping and that November could see wholesale change.John McIntyre at Real Clear Politics suggests that Busby needs just 45 percent of the district vote to confirm national speculation on the San Diego race's national implications:
If there really is a Democratic surge building this year you would expect to see it in the final results in today's election. The inability of Busby to break out above that 45% area would be an indication that perhaps much of the media hype about the Democrats taking over Congress is just that, hype. Democrats may try to spin a sub-45% showing by Busby as not a big deal because of the strong Republicans bias of the district or a last minute gaffe, but the reality is this is exactly the type of race Democrats are going to have win at around a 75% clip if they hope to net the 15 seats they need to take over the House.Also, Brendan Miniter at OpinionJournal.com has a piece today arguing that the underying issue in the race for the 50th is the GOP's inability to come to grips with its corruption problems.