Why a Democrat can win California 50th Congressional District race in 2010 (Part 2)

The Republicans in the 50th Congressional District are starting to feel comfortable about having a win in the bag in 2010. CQ Politics just released an assessment that Bilbray’s GOP seat in North County’s 50th is secure. Clearly the author is unaware of the district’s history and political leanings before 2002 covered in Part 1 of this series and plays down the systematic closing of the point gap between Democrats and Republicans since the Republican’s gerrymandered win in 2002.  Part 2 of this series will explore why a Democratic candidate hasn’t yet won the District and what they need to do to wrestle control back from the Republicans.

Why hasn’t a Democrat won the district back yet?

The following list encompasses some personal observations as well as election analysis in a 2006 poll commissioned in California’s 50th Congressional District by Courage Campaign, a non-partisan, Progressive 527 based in Los Angeles, and MyDD, a Progressive blog devoted to analysis and commentary on political campaigns and infrastructure, to determine why the national Democratic message failed to give Democrat Francine Busby the seat formerly occupied by convicted felon, Republican Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Busby also lost to Republican Brian Bilbray in the 2006 regular election, having probably been her last best chance to win this district.

1. Voter Turnout – A winning Democratic candidate needs high Independent and Decline to State voter turnout, which combined currently makes up at least 28% of registered voters in North County, to close the point gap with the Republican incumbent. Busby has been repeatedly unsuccessful in mobilizing this demographic and securing their vote. Voter appeal beyond Democratic base voters will be instrumental.

2. Inland Voter Turnout – A winning Democratic candidate needs to mobilize and secure the vote of residents in the inland part of the district. The highest density of registered voters are inland and the majority of these voters are working class families. Thus far, the previous Democratic candidates have been coastal candidates, such as Busby and Nick Leibham, which did not resonate with inland voters. However, one candidate Progressive Democrat Tracy Emblem, a resident of Escondido since 1964 with working class roots and strong support from Labor Unions will appeal to this key inland working class demographic.

3. Issue-based Campaign – A winning Democratic candidate needs to clearly draw a distinction between themselves and the Republican incumbent by running a strong, issue-based campaign. Most voters in 2006 had no concrete idea where Busby stood on important issues, so her image in the mind of the voter was poorly defined. The Republicans, on the other hand, led the discussion and framed any debate around issues they knew would resonate in their favor. Even in the current jockeying for the 2010 primary election, until a month ago Emblem was the only candidate who clearly outlined her positions on important issues on her campaign website. Busby only recently added any substantive issue-based information to her campaign website after Emblem pointed out  the omission at a Mesa Democratic Club meeting in November.

4. Accountability – A winning Democratic candidate has to hold the current administration accountable for problems that have occurred under its watch both at home and abroad. This is as relevant now as it was during the Bush administration, perhaps more-so. President Obama has high disapproval ratings and a successful candidate needs to distinguish clearly how they will provide viable solutions to the problems the Obama administration and Democratic legislators have been unable to resolve. San Diego News Network noted that Busby is still uncritically toting President Obama’s change message as if she’s his sidekick. Emblem, on the other hand, has demonstrated that she can hold the President accountable for unsuccessful policy decisions, like Afghanistan.

What’s the bottom line?

The Democratic party cannot continue to do the same old same old in the 50th district if they have any hope of unseating incumbent Republican Bilbray. With a focus on voter turnout, an issues-based campaign focusing on issues that resonate with Independent, Decline to State and Inland voters, and lastly courage to hold the current administration accountable for policy missteps, Democrats can pull off this supposed Hail Mary pass win.