- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2006

Voters in San Diego go to the polls today to choose a replacement for former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who was convicted in a bribery scandal and is headed to prison.

The most likely scenario is that none of the 18 candidates will garner a majority, prompting a runoff election for the remaining seven months of the California Republican’s term between the top vote-getters from each party.

Democrat Francine Busby, a local school board member is leading in most polls, getting around 40 percent, but most political observers believe the seat is ultimately safe for Republicans.

“With 14 Republicans splitting the Republican vote, Busby is going to come out ahead this round, but I would bet on the Republican in June,” said Gary C. Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego.

“This is one district that’s so Republican if they lost, it would really be quite noticeable.”

Of the 14 Republican candidates, those with the highest poll numbers are Brian P. Bilbray, a lobbyist and former member of Congress, state Sen. Bill Morrow, former state assembly member Howard Kaloogian and businessmen Eric Roach and Alan Uke.

There is one other Democrat on the ballot, one independent and one libertarian.

Democrats know they face an uphill battle, but Mrs. Busby has attracted national attention, raising more than $1.3 million.

Republicans are working to portray her as a liberal who does not serve the district’s interests.

“As soon as the Republican candidate emerges from the primary and is able to turn and face the Democrat with full force, Francine Busby will surely lose,” said Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Sarah Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, noted Republicans spent $300,000 on television campaign ads targeting Mrs. Busby in recent days.

“It shows you just how worried the national Republicans are about the real drive from American families for change that they feel they have had to step up so much in this district,” she said.

Mrs. Busby challenged Cunningham in 2004, but he beat her 58 percent to 36 percent.

The runoff election would be held the same day as the June 6 primary election, when California voters will choose nominees for governor and other statewide offices.

The candidates have made ethics a campaign issue after Cunningham pleaded guilty to tax evasion and for accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. He resigned in December and was sentenced to more than eight years in prison in March.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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