US House CA-50 update: Bilbray and Busby tied, Roach sort of running, sort of not running

In the special election for California’s 50th US House district seat, a poll has Republican Brian Bilbray and Democrat Francine Busby in a dead heat. Meanwhile, Eric Roach, who narrowly lost the Republican nomination to Bilbray on 11 April, is not “aggressively” seeking to defeat Bilbray for the nomination for the regular general election contest in November.

An automated telephone poll by Survey USA, puts Bilbray and Busby each at 45% among “likely voters,” with 9% saying “other”1 and 1% undecided. The sample was 442 voters, and the margin of error was 4.8 points.

Roach will be on the ballot for the Republican primary, the same day as the runoff between Bilbray and Busby (and a few minor candidates). The runoff will fill the seat through next January, while the primary will decide the candidates for November’s election for the full-term seat. With much pressure from national Republican leaders, Roach says:

I do not believe it would serve the interests of the conservative majority to campaign aggressively against the Republican special nominee.

Apparently, Democrats were hoping Roach would be “aggressive,” and Republicans feared disunity would help Busby.2 However, I wonder if Republicans’ chances of holding the seat in June would not be better if Roach stayed in, and better still in November if Roach were the nominee against Busby.

I think there is little doubt that in a closed primary, Roach would have defeated Bilbray, who does little to excite the base and even holds some moderate/liberal views on some key issues for the right, as well as holding the baggage of a former congressman (from an only partly overlapping redistricted seat) who became a lobbyist. The race for the Republican nomination in April was very close and featued multiple contenders, and any voter could vote for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation. In June, only registered Republicans or voters registered “delcine to state” who specifically request a Republican ballot may vote for the party’s November nominee.

And then there is the always-important factor of turnout. If Republican turnout is depressed in June (and November) and Democratic turnout is energized–as now seems likely–a campaign by Roach could bring more “base” Republicans out to vote.

The Survey USA poll contains some evidence for this, claiming that among voters it defines as “likely” who did not vote in April, Bilbray leads Busby by 19 points. That lead looks fishy to me, but it suggests there is a pool of Republican voters who skipped the primary; if they skip the next two elections as well, Republicans might very well lose the seat–a previously “safe” seat.

The inactive campaign by Roach is probably good news for Busby.

I do not watch a lot of local television, but one does no thave to watch much to see that both national parties are aggressively attacking the other’s candidate. Obviously, Republicans are scared and Democrats smell blood.

1. The actual “other” candidates in the runoff are far too insignificant to have real support of 9%. I wonder how many of these are Roach supporters who do not understand the confusing ballot, with a general (in which Roach is not running) and primary (in which he is) side-by-side.

2. The third-pace finisher in the race, former state assembly member Howard Kaloogian, said he would endorse Roach if he continued the challenge

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