Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In California, Sigh of Relief for GOP ; Bilbray Won Tuesday's House Race, but Analysts Say Democrats Still Feel Confident about Making Gains This Fall

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In California, Sigh of Relief for GOP ; Bilbray Won Tuesday's House Race, but Analysts Say Democrats Still Feel Confident about Making Gains This Fall

Article excerpt

Republicans are heaving a sigh of relief following Brian Bilbray's victory in the special election to fill the seat of imprisoned ex-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R) of California.

If Mr. Bilbray's Democratic opponent, Francine Busby, had won in the solidly Republican San Diego district, this story would be on the front page - and giddy Democrats would be predicting certain takeover of one or both houses of Congress in November.

Conditions are still ripe for Democratic gains in the fall midterms: low job approval for President Bush and the Republican- led Congress, and strong public feeling that the nation is on the wrong track, as the Iraq war grinds on and unease over the economy continues. The roster of competitive House races has expanded in recent weeks to more than 40, still small for a 435-seat body, but enough to close the 15-seat margin of GOP control, according to nonpartisan political handicappers.

But the Democrats failed to get the positive jolt they were looking for Tuesday. "National Democrats did not discover their shock wave in San Diego," said Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC), in a statement Wednesday.

Still, say political analysts, Bilbray's five-point victory should give Republicans pause. "In a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats 3 to 2, to win by that small a margin suggests there are a lot of unhappy stay-at-home Republicans," says Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas, Austin. "That augurs poorly for elections around the country where the expected margins of victory are much narrower."

The GOP pulled out all the stops to win what would normally be an easy victory. The NRCC spent $5 million on the race. Republican volunteers - including about 100 Capitol Hill staffers who flew in from Washington - made phone calls and knocked on doors to make sure Republicans turned out to vote. The Democratic campaign committee spent about $1.9 million; Busby's campaign says it had about 500 volunteers on the ground, most of them from the district.

With her base of support at about 45 percent in the district, Ms. …

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