A June Loss in San Diego Could Spell November Disaster for Republicans

April 18, 2006 · 12:05 AM EDT

A win on June 6 by Democrat Francine Busby in the special election runoff to replace Duke Cunningham (R) in California’s 50th Congressional District would be more than a symbolic victory for the Democrats. Democrats would then need a net gain of only fourteen seats, but more importantly, the field of competitive open seats would widen significantly.

Former Cong. Brian Bilbray (R) starts the runoff with the advantage, but a Busby win is not out of the question. And a victory in San Diego in June could buoy Democratic prospects in other Republican open seats with similar political profiles.

Illinois 6. Democratic nominee Tammy Duckworth has received more national, even worldwide, media attention than any other congressional candidate in the country because of her military background and tour of duty in Iraq. But even with the full support of the national Democratic Party and much of the congressional delegation, Duckworth narrowly slipped by 2004 nominee Christine Cegelis in the Democratic primary. Republicans have a very strong nominee in state Sen. Peter Roskam, but this race in the suburban-Chicago area has the potential to be influenced by a poor national environment. President Bush defeated Kerry 53%-46% in the district in 2004, and Al Gore 53%-44% in 2000. Cong Henry Hyde (R) is retiring after decades in Congress.

Minnesota 6. Both parties have crowded fields in the competitive race to succeed Cong. Mark Kennedy (R) who is running for the U.S. Senate. President Bush carried the district 57%-42% in 2004 and 53%-42% four years before that. On the GOP side, state Sen. Michele Bachmann, state Rep. Jim Knoblach, and state Rep. Phil Krinkie are the serious contenders for the nomination. While former Blaine Mayor Elwyn Tinklenberg and 2004 nominee/former 2006 Senate candidate Patty Wetterling are battling for the Democratic nomination. The primary isn’t until September 12, but the nominees from each party will likely be chosen at endorsing conventions later this spring.

Wisconsin 8. Cong. Mark Green (R) is vacating his Green Bay-area seat in order to run for governor. State Assembly Speaker John Gard is the clear frontrunner for the GOP nomination, but still faces state Rep. Terri McCormick in the September 12 primary. Physician Steve Kagen, businessman Jamie Wall, and former Brown County Executive Nancy Nusbaum are facing off on the Democratic side. President Bush carried the district in both 2004 (55%-44%) and 2000 (52%-43%).

Nevada 2. Cong. Jim Gibbons (R) is also running for governor, but his wife, Dawn, is one of three Republicans vying to replace him. Dawn Gibbons, a state Assemblywoman, is facing Secretary of State Dean Heller and state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle in the August 15 Republican primary. The winner will face State University System Regent Jill Derby (D) in the general election. In 2004, Bush won the sprawling, rural-Nevada district 57%-41% and 57%-37% over Gore in 2000.

New York 24. Sherwood Boehlert (R) is retiring from Congress, creating an open seat in upstate New York that Bush carried 52%-46% in 2004. State Sen. Ray Meier is the likely Republican nominee. Oneida County District Arcuri is the favorite on the Democratic side, but could face public health officer Les Roberts in the September 12 primary. Democrats are hoping strong performances from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D) at the top of the ticket will boost down-ballot congressional races like this one.

In a neutral environment, these races would be Democratic long shots and Roskam and Gard are particularly strong candidates. But if Democrats are winning in seats like California 50, where Kerry received only 44% in 2004, more GOP open seats like the aforementioned five quickly come into focus. Democrats still have almost two-dozen better opportunities, so if the battle for the majority is being fought in these open seats, Democrats may have enough seats in play to win.

The June election result in California 50 will signal one of two extremes: 1) The Democratic wave is potentially weaker and further away than we thought, or 2) The Democratic wave is real and already sweeping normally Republican districts into the Democratic column.

This column first appeared on Town Hall on April 14, 2006.