The long race for the 50th congressional district became a sprint on Monday
when Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-San Diego, abruptly resigned from the
U.S. House of Representatives after months of fending off a bribery probe.
Instead of a standard race next November, candidates will now pile into an
open primary, likely to take place around April. If no candidate receives 50
percent of the vote, the top vote getter from each party will face off in a
run-off election that is likely to take place on June 6.
The field is now filled with a half dozen or more jostling Republicans,
along with a Democrat who hopes to show that the GOP’s legal issues can be
used to win in district where Dems are thought to have little chance.
One prominent name will jump off the fence on Thursday. According to a
source close Brian Bilbray, the former U.S. Congressman will announce his
candidacy in a press conference in San Diego.
Meanwhile, sources close to Asm. Mark Wyland, R-Del Mar, said that he is
reconsidering his decision leave the race, which he announced last week. If
he does not seek the Congressional seat, Wyland will likely run for the
State Senate seat being vacated by another candidate for the 50th, Sen. Bill
Morrow, R-Oceanside, who is termed out. This decision would affect the
decision of another Republican, Asm. George Plescia, R-San Diego, who will
run for Morrow’s seat if Wyland doesn’t.
Bilbray, Morrow and possibly Wyland join a crowded field of Republicans
which also includes former Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, San Diego County
supervisor Pam Slater Price, recall candidate George Schwarzman, and San
Diego businessman Alan Uke. Yet another locally-known politician, Escondido
mayor Lori Pfeiler, said she is seriously considering a run and will decide
by early next week.
On the Democratic side, Cardiff school board member Francine Busby appears
to be the front-runner. She’s locked up a host of high-profile endorsements,
including state treasurer Phil Angelides and insurance commissioner John
Busby’s communications director, Brennan Bilberry, said there were several
factors working to her advantage, despite the GOP’s 45-30 registration
advantage in the district. These include the $248,000 she has raised so far,
along with the format; he said Busby will likely end up in a June runoff
against whichever Republican emerges from the scrum–meaning she might not
face the strongest candidate.
However, the main focus is still on a small group of Republicans. Sounding
very much like a candidate, Escondido’s Pfeiler denied the scandal brush
could be used to tar all Republicans in the race.
“I come from a place where our books are in order and our bills are paid,”
Meanwhile, Morrow said that he is in the race, though he has not yet made an
“I said that I’m running from five minutes after Duke Cunningham said he
wasn’t seeking reelection,” Morrow said. “We’re in the early stages of
organizing the campaign, so we haven’t made the ‘grand entry’ yet.”
Morrow said that his experience in running in another rushed race–the early
Republican primary to replace Rep. Ron Packard back in 2000–will give him an
advantage. He said he raised $360,000 in three months in that race.
But Morrow lost that race to U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-San Diego, a wealthy
car alarm magnate. Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target
Book, said that bad blood between the two from that race could lead Issa to
put his influence behind another announced candidate, his friend Alan Uke. A
relative unknown, the Turkish-American businessman must be taken seriously
due to his personal wealth and connections to Issa, Hoffenblum said.
However, Issa issued a press release on Nov. 17 stating that he has not
endorsed Uke or any other candidate.
Another prominent name is that of Kaloogian. The 45 year-old lawyer
announced on Nov. 14. He touts an Internet-based campaign he said gets a new
donation every six minutes. Perhaps in a swipe at Uke, Kaloogian’s campaign
spokesman, Sal Russo, said the short race will give his candidate an
advantage due to the three terms he spent in the Assembly.
“The shorter campaign gives the greater advantage to candidates who are
already well-known,” Russo said. “It puts wealthy candidates who want to buy
name ID at a disadvantage.”
This positioning that has been going on since Cunningham announced in July
that he would not be seeking reelection. On Monday, he pled guilty to a U.S.
District judge on charges of taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense
contractors. He issued a press release afterwards, stating “I am now almost
65 years old and, as I enter the twilight of my life, I intend to use the
remaining time that God grants me to make amends.”
Cunningham’s resignation follows months of very public scandals for
Republicans, including another prominent California Congressman, Rep. John
Doolittle, R-Rocklin. The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, among
others, reported that Doolittle is among a handful of politicians implicated
in the evolving political scandal involving Washington, D.C., lobbyist Jack