Republican Brian Bilbray's win over Democrat Francine Busby to fill the seat of disgraced Republican congressman Randy Cunningham reminds one of the blind men and the elephant. Everyone takes something different away, depending on their perspective.
For example, the Democrats see this as a big win (in spite of the fact that they . . . well . . . lost) because their candidate got 45% of the vote this time out when she only got 36 % two years ago. As the folks at My DD put it, "this is a huge, seismic shift in our favor that bodes extremely well for November. If we receive an 18% shift nationwide, we will win the House easily." But over at Red State they are happy to let the left have all the moral victories they want, so long as the guy going to Washington has an "R" next to his name.
And then some people think the race was all about immigration. Bilbray was for strong enforcement of immigration laws and against the Senate's "Amnesty" bill. So much so that Sen. McCain dis-invited himself from a Bilbray fund raiser. And Busby committed a serious gaffe when she told a man who asked if he could help her campaign when he didn't have "papers" that “You don't need papers for voting." So you can say (a lot of people do) that this race shows that the Republicans should focus on immigration in the fall.
And then you have some people saying it's a mistake to try to draw too much of a trend from this election. As Smash points out, Busby was never very likely to win, given that she was never able to crack 45% in the race. And as The Moderate Voice points out in a detailed (and really smart) analysis, there were lots and lots of factors in the race. Such as:
- No one knows how much Randy Cunningham's spectacular fall from grace hurt Bilbray;
- Bilbray was actually pretty moderate, so much so that he had a third party candidate running to his right;
- Bilbray was also an attractive, experienced candidate, with a lot of name recognition in San Diego; and
- Busby's comment about not needing papers to vote was one of the more spectacular slip-ups by a candidate in recent memory.
In one sense TMV is right, the election was more about a good candidate who ran a smart campaign in friendly territory than it is about anything else. On the other hand, an awful lot of the smart campaign that Bilbray ran focused on immigration.
So, in spite of the danger in trying to find a trend out of a single event, I am going out on a limb. I think that in the upcoming election cycle immigration might become the new "third rail". The traditional wisdom is that candidates that want to win in national or (most) statewide elections can't afford to alienate the Hispanic vote. So they try to play both sides, i.e. the way the President and the Senate bill tries to be all things to all people.
But Hispanics actually make up a pretty small chunk of the actual registered voters in this Country (about 6%), and non-Hispanics are more focused on the immigration issue than ever before. Bilbray won in large part because he rejected the squishy middle and took a tough, pro-enforcement line. And so I think that pandering to the open borders, pro-amnesty crowd is very dangerous in this environment. You could find yourself--either Democrat or Republican--alienating a lot of folks who otherwise would be in your corner.
Which will make a lot of politicians very uncomfortable in the coming months, which ought to be fun to watch.