I will call these factors the closeness, plurality, spoiler, immigration (and McCain), Hauf, and losing-still-a-harbinger factors.
1. The closeness factor. A poll last week showed the race in a dead heat.
2. The plurality factor. As I have been saying since before the first round in April, Busby’s chances have always been better today than in the first round. In April, a candidate needed a majority of all votes cast (regardless of party) to win. Today, the candidate needs only a plurality.
3. The spoiler factor. There are four candidates on the ballot, and in a close race, even very small vote shares for the two minor candidates could affect the outcome between Busby and Bilbray and allow the winner to have 47% or so of the total vote. Both minor candidates are far more likely to appeal to a small segment of the voters who preferred one of the other Republicans in April than to voters who would otherwise vote for Busby. The Libertarian candidate, Paul King (819 votes, or 0.6% in April) is refreshingly honest about being a potential spoiler. “Both myself and Bill will steal votes from Bilbray,” he said. Bill is independent William Griffith (0.8%). More on him in the next point.
4. The immigration factor (and also a McCain factor). As much as Bilbray has tried to impress upon voters in this historically safe Republican district his hard line on immigration, the issue may be hurting him. For one thing, he has little credibility as a hard-liner overall, having taken moderate positions on many issues in his previous stint as a congressman (from a different, and then-swing, district). More importantly, Griffiths is endorsed by the Minutemen border-vigilante organization. Meanwhile, John McCain stood Bilbray up late in the campaign on account of Bilbray’s opposition to McCain’s immigration bill, which Busby supports (and has touted on a right-wing talk-radio program).
5. The Hauf factor. Bill Hauf announced a few weeks ago that he would actively seek the Republican nomination in the primary for the district’s November race that is on the ballot today alongside the special-election runoff. Busby supporters cheered the news, but they should not. Bilbray won only around 28% of all the votes cast for Republicans in April, and his lack of clear “conservative” credentials and weak support among party voters could depress GOP turnout. But Hauf could counteract that, and if Hauf’s campaign brings out more right-wing voters who would otherwise have stayed home, and if even some of these voters hold their noses and vote for Bilbray (instead of voting for one of the potential spoilers or not voting in that race), it could make the difference in defeating Busby.
6. The losing-still-a-harbinger factor. If Busby fails to gain the plurality, does she improve on her 44% showing in the first round, when there was one other token Democrat (getting 2%) and there were 18 Republicans? This is a district in which Busby won only 36% in 2004. In other words, the Democrat doesn’t have to win today for the outcome to be an ominous sign for the Republicans in the fall.
For previous posts on this race (and others), click on “US vote ’06” at the top of the post.