Liberals See Opportunity in Cunningham's House Seat

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:31pm EDT

( - Following the scandal-driven departure of Randy "Duke" Cunningham from his U.S. House seat, the liberal activist group Political Action is taking up the cause of a Democrat trying to capture Cunningham's former seat in the heavily Republican 50th district of California.

"We can ... hand Republicans their first defeat of 2006," leaders stated in an e-mail to members this week. A special election is scheduled for April 11 and a run-off will follow on June 6 if none of the candidates manages a majority on April 11. Democrat Francine Busby is one of two Democrats seeking the seat. There are 14 Republicans vying for the seat that Cunningham vacated last November.

The liberal group, which first attracted attention in 2004 fighting against President Bush's re-election, is also expected to work aggressively in the fall for Democratic candidates seeking to win back the House after a dozen years out of power. is urging its members outside the California district to call voters in the district and encourage them to support Busby. The e-mail indicates that the phone campaign will serve as practice for the larger-scale efforts planned this fall.

In asking voters in the 50th district to support Busby and help Democrats seize power on Capitol Hill, the volunteers are promising that "Busby has a great plan to fight corruption in Congress and she supports an exit strategy from Iraq."

Cunningham pleaded guilty Nov. 28, to charges of tax evasion and conspiracy in connection with a bribery scandal. He collected $2.4 million in gifts in exchange for helping to steer government contracts to defense firms. Earlier this month, Cunningham was sentenced to eight years and four months.

The winner of the special election would serve the remainder of Cunningham's term and then immediately run for re-election in November of this year.

In a poll released Monday by Datamar Inc., 36 percent of the 580 likely voters surveyed said they would vote for Busby. In second place was Republican Brian Bilbray, a former Republican U.S. House member, who got almost 12 percent of the support.

The 14 Republican candidates combined attracted the support of almost 57 percent of likely voters. Busby and the only other Democrat in the race, Chris Young, combined for 37 percent.

The race also showcases one Libertarian candidate and one independent candidate, who combined for less than 3 percent of the support.

Busby, a member of the Cardiff School District Board, is a former adjunct professor of women's studies at California State University, San Marcos, according to her campaign website.

Brennan Bilberry, a spokesman for the Busby campaign, declined to comment on's efforts. "We are not allowed to have any involvement or any knowledge of it," he told Cybercast News Service. "It's an independent expenditure."

As for's assertion that the special election could foreshadow this fall's congressional elections, Bilberry said California's 50th district race should be viewed independently.

"In this district it's not about Democrats versus Republicans necessarily. It's about people who want to change the way Washington works, versus business-as-usual politicians.

"It's not necessarily a partisan bellwether," he added, "but a bellwether of reform."

Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for the Bilbray campaign, said he was not surprised that would support Busby, but he declined to speculate on whether the group's effort would help her win.

Representatives for and its public relations firm Fenton Communications did not respond to requests for comment.

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