Asm. Mark Wyland, R-Del Mar, has decided to seek the state Senate seat held by Bill Morrow, R-Oceanside, rather than the 50th congressional seat recently vacated by disgraced Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-San Diego.
Meanwhile, University of the Pacific dean Margee Ensign ended weeks of speculation with a decision to join Democratic field against powerful Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, in the 11th district.
Had he stayed in the race for Cunningham’s seat, Wyland would have been in a crowded field of Republicans that also includes Morrow, who is being termed out of the senate. Other declared Republicans include for former congressman Brian Bilbray, former assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, San Diego County supervisor Pam Slater Price, recall candidate George Schwarzman, and San Diego businessman Alan Uke.
Wyland’s political consultant Tim Clark says despite the crowded field, Wyland would have been the frontrunner in the congressional race had he stayed in.
But now, he says, the race is wide open. Even though Bilbray is strong opponent of illegal immigration, Clark said, that is a given for any Republican in that district. Both Bilbray and Uke might be considered too moderate on social issues, he said, while Morrow and Kaloogian might not be able to raise money fast enough. The field is open enough, Clark added, that former mayoral candidate Steve Francis might jump in.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a front-runner [before the primary],” Clark said. “These guys are going to have to slug it out.”
The slew of Republican candidates will pile into an open primary that will also include Democrat Francine Busby, a Cardiff school board member. The race was abruptly moved up by several months last week when Cunningham resigned after admitting to charges of taking bribes from defense contractors.
Wyland denied that the large number of well-known competitors were a factor in his decision to abandon the congressional race. He also said that he was prepared for Democrats who might try to use Cunningham’s troubles to tar other Republicans.
“I think voters look at every individual candidate,” Wyland said. “I’m happy to put my record up [for scrutiny].”
A former Escondido school board member, the 59 year-old Wyland has been in the Assembly since 2000.
One used to be able to say the same about both the 11th and the 50th congressional districts. However, in recent months both have been targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as “winnable” races for Democrats due to the GOPs recent ethical scandals.
The DCCC issued a press release after Cunningham’s resignation last week, citing several factors they say make the district fertile ground for a Democratic candidate, despite the GOP’s formidable 45-30 registration advantage. These included not only the legal troubles of Cunningham and other local Republicans, but demographic factors such as the highly-educated workforce and large number of Asian and Latino immigrants.
The San Diego County Democratic Party released a list Tuesday of other San Diego area politicians who they say had taken campaign contributions from groups implicated in the Cunningham scandal, including Brent Wilkes and the defense contractor he founded, ADCS Inc. The list includes Bilbray, Morrow, Wyland and Asm. George Plescia, R-San Diego, who has also been looking at Morrow’s Senate seat.
San Diego Democratic chairman Jess Durfee said that the group had not yet endorsed Busby. However, he said a Democrat could win due to the moderate nature of a district, noting that half of voters supported Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2004 and where Republicans lack a majority.
“The Republican party is in disarray,” Durfee said. “The culture of corruption they have been involved in will be paid back at the ballot box.”
Bilbray agreed that the San Diego area is home to large numbers of moderate Republicans. In fact, he said, he lost his seat in the neighboring 49th district to Democrat Susan Davis in 2000 largely due to his support of the Bill Clinton impeachment. However, he said he would make the same unpopular decision again.
“It was deadly,” Bilbray said. “I know it from walking precincts. But an impeachment vote is not a vote of representation, it’s a vote of fact.”
Still, Bilbray and Wyland are both emphasizing a traditional Republican issue in their races–illegal immigration. If he manages to make a return to Congress, Bilbray said he will push hard for a bill that would increase fines on employers who hire illegal immigrants from $4,000 to 40,000.
Wyland has been on of the leading critics of illegal immigration in the California Legislature, frequently challenging the idea that illegal immigrants benefit the economy. He is also a major proponent of cutting taxes and reforming education.
Ensign joins several other Democrats seeking to unseat Pombo. Others includes Gerald McNerney, who Pombo trounced in 2004, along with former Navy pilot Steve Filson and electrician Stevan Thomas.
Pombo is a seven-term representative known for his fundraising prowess, his powerful post as the chairman of the House Resources Committee, and his efforts to significantly revise the Endangered Species Act. The DCCC has been targeting him for months, citing alleged ethical issues and his ties to embattled former House Majority leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.