This week, the Courage Campaign and MyDD, a progressive blog devoted to analysis and commentary on political campaigns and infrastructure, announced the findings of the poll we commissioned in California’s 50th Congressional District (North San Diego County) to determine why the national Democratic message centering on allegations of Republican corruption failed to win Francine Busby the seat formerly occupied by convicted felon, Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Busby lost to Republican Brian Bilbray in the June 6th special election.
The poll, available on our website, is worth reading as is the narrative of our findings. The results are quite surprising and contrary to conventional wisdom.
First, some important statistical background:
The 50th district is very “red,” with Republican registration at 39% to 25% Democratic. Therefore, Busby’s defeat by only four points is very impressive. Nevertheless, she lost.
59% of respondents rate President Bush unfavorably. Only 36%, less than Republican registration, rate him favorably. About the same percentage, 58%, think the country is on the wrong track, while only 29% think it’s on the right track.
Contrast this with voters’ opinions about California: 43% think our state is on the right track while 37% think it’s on the wrong track. And respondents like Governor Schwarzenegger, whose favorable rating is 66% with an unfavorable rating of just 29%.
Phil Angelides fares far less well than the Governor with a 25% favorable, a 39% unfavorable and 36% who are unsure.
In a district where a decisive majority thinks both that the country is headed in the wrong direction and that the President is not doing a good job, how could Busby lose?
It’s actually quite straightforward:
Busby a) did not define herself; b) did not convince Independent swing voters to vote for her; and c) did not show enough strength as a leader to bring voters to the polls. Busby got a high Democratic turnout, contrary to popular belief, but she did not get the Independents to turn out and when they did vote, they voted too often for third party candidates.
Breaking it down further, we found that Busby did not lose on immigration or on her “gaffe” (in which she said in the closing days of the election, “Everybody can help. You can all help. You don’t need papers for voting, you don’t need to be a registered voter to help.”) Nor did she lose as a result of her stand on the war in Iraq; after all, the war was left out of the debate in this race, even though voters disapprove of the president and the direction in which he’s leading the country.
Busby lost because she campaigned against “the culture of corruption.” Our survey indicates clearly that the voters do not believe that either candidate can do much to “clean up Washington.” In fact, voters don’t think either Busby or Bilbray can do much of anything to thwart the Bush agenda, which, by a clear majority, voters in this district reject.
We think there is only one solution for Busby and for Democrats in similar races across the nation: convince voters that they will stand up against George Bush, force him to be accountable and stop his wrong-headed policies dead in their tracks. The data in this poll indicate that. In order to finish our work and operate on hard facts, we will be back in the field in the next few days to test that thesis. You’ll be the first to know what we find out.
Based on all of this information, we encourage you as donors and people who care deeply about a progressive future, to demand that our politicians lead.
We’ll be back to you with more information, but until then, please tell us what you think. What would you advise progressive candidates to do? It’s your money and your vote. Tell ‘em!
And while you’re visiting our website, please check out our new online tools. Our users can create unique profiles, start groups, send out petitions and more. We hope you’ll put the site and the information we share to good use.
Remember, as California goes, so goes the country so let’s work together to bring back our dreams.
Rick Jacobs is the founder and chair of the Courage Campaign. He chaired the presidential campaign of Howard Dean in California and serves as Senior Advisor to Democracy for America.