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That was unexpected:

Cynthia Rodriguez Matthews                 12,836   47.0 
Russ Warner                                10,308   37.8 
Hoyt Hilsman                                4,172   15.2 
Melvin C. (Mel) Milton                      3,295    8.2 
Sonny Sardo                                10,692   26.9 
* David Dreier                               25,852   64.9 

Clearly something is going on in this district. One piece may be who bothered to vote. Over at MyDD, Matt Stoller makes this unlikely claim about Busby’s loss. Could it be related?

Brian Bilbray ran to the left of Francine Busby. I know it sounds weird, but he did. That he won on a progressive platform is biggest story of the night. Busby’s loss was a loss no matter how it’s spun, but it’s also a clear sign that the Democrats must become a progressive party. Busby ran the ultimate DC campaign, downplaying ideology and party, and making the campaign about competence, corruption, and issues. I don’t expect this to wake up DC insiders, but you never know.

So let’s look closer at the loss in CA-50 for Michael Duka, I mean, Francine Busby. What is there to say about Busby? She lost against a corrupt lobbyist running as a progressive in a district whose last Congressman resigned because of bribery and prostitution. If any district was tailor made for competence and corruption messaging, it was this one. That it didn’t work should wake some people up. Busby ran explicitly as a ‘moderate’ to restore ethical government, with a patina of ‘issues’ (just look at the incomprehensible ‘issues’ area of her web site). She hid from progressives and liberals explicitly, running on a technocratic vision of minor benefits for the electorate. Busby argued that goverment is a service delivery vehicle, and she can make the trains run on time. The voters rejected that argument because they didn’t trust the messenger. You can say she made up 15 points or something and the Republicans had to spend a lot of resources on this race, and I respect that argument. You can say she made a last-minute gaffe on immigration, and I respect that argument. You can argue that the California Governor’s race depressed turnout. All those are valid arguments. Unfortunately, reality isn’t fair. The map is gerrymandered. The Republicans have more money, a lot more. They have the ability to create last minute gaffes for every Democrat in the country. They have a proven turnout model, and the ability to dominate the agenda with wedge issues and hatred. And Democratic leaders don’t have a history of effective messaging, which means that with some exceptions the top of the ticket ain’t going to be particularly inspiring.

The lesson from last night should be clear. Hiding from progressives and the left will lead to Democratic losses in 2006. Running as a progressive will lead to victory. Running on ‘issues’ and ‘competence’ instead of character will lead to Democratic losses. Talking about how the ‘American people’ care about gas prices and not gay marriage is insulting and loser politics. Running on bullet points is wrong. Running on character is right.

Busby was no progressive, so she lost. She got the indy votes, but couldn’t turn out progressive voters and couldn’t keep in conservative voters. That’s my reading of the race. We should cut the ‘googoo competence and ignore everything else strategy’, it doesn’t work.

Iraq. Gay marriage. Immigration. Iran. Corruption. Get used to election season, 2006. Grab your progressive principles and hold on tight.


  1. How did Russ warner lose? I think its safe to say that Nancy is not a strong enough challenger to take on David Drier and we can be sure for another dissapointment in the 26th district.

    Comment by David — June 7, 2006 #

  2. […] The long version: Two weeks ago, Cynthia Rodriguez Matthews pulled a major upset and won the Democratic nomination for Congress in the 26th District of California. Her primary opponent and the assumed favorite of the race was Russ Warner, who had made a decent show of fundraising and received the endorsement of Gen. Wesley Clark. But Matthews, who was also the nominee in 2004, pulled an upset and won. […]

    Comment by Seth in CA (for the summer) » A SethInCA Project: Help engage Cynthia Rodriguez Matthews with the Netroots — June 19, 2006 #

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