Blogging In Bad Company

GENERIC blog blogger internet computer silhouette CBS/AP

This column was written by Dean Barnett.
If anyone other than political junkies cared about the race for Duke Cunningham's old congressional seat in California's 50th District, Democratic candidate Francine Busby's "you don't need papers for voting" blunder would rank with Gerald Ford insisting Poland wasn't communist, Michael Dukakis joy-riding in a tank, and John Kerry reporting for duty.

Alas, Busby's gaffe is unlikely to enter the annals of Greatest American Political Blunders. Most of the nation's citizenry let the special election for Cunningham's seat come and go without ever allowing it to invade their conscious thoughts. But America does have a small class of political obsessives, and the invention of blogging has given them a public platform. For the left-wing blogosphere, the quest for Cunningham's seat was a months-long passion and their writings surrounding the race provide a nice snapshot of where this virtual community stands today.

Depending on how you count, the progressive blogosphere's won/loss record in competitive races between the parties hovers somewhere around 0-20. But when Republican incumbent Duke Cunningham was frog-marched from the House, the left-wing blogs sensed a real opportunity. John Kerry had carried 43 percent of the vote in the district; surely, they thought, the combination of President Bush's unpopularity and an imprisoned incumbent personifying the Republican "culture of corruption" would be enough to add 7 percentage points to the Democrats' side.

The left was jubilant when the April 12 runoff to determine the finalists for Cunningham's seat gave the Democrat, Busby, 45 percent of the vote and second place finisher, Republican Brian Bilbray, roughly 15 percent. While Busby bested Bilbray by 30 points, the Republican candidates combined for 53 percent. Nevertheless, Chris Bowers, of the MyDD blog, considered Busby's victory inevitable. On the night of the primary, he wrote:

"This is a district with a Republican performance of around 56 percent, but even giving voters fourteen different Republicans options and throwing $5M into the race has only secured Republicans 53 percent of the vote, and dropping. They are only going to be able to give voters one option in June, and they will be able to spend less than one million on the race then. And yet they still need to cobble together 85 percent of the "other" vote for Bilbray, who isn't especially liked among local conservative activists. Gooooood luck."

Not everyone shared Bowers' assessment. One MyDD commenter wrote, "Forgive me for being realistic, but it seems to me that we're talking about primary results that work out to Republicans — 55.32 percent, Democrats — 44.68 percent . . . Sorry, but I see these results as a clear indication that CA-50 remains a solid Republican district."

A couple weeks later, Democratic pollsters Lake Research Partners released a poll showing Bilbray holding a 45-43 lead over Busby, leading them to conclude that:

"These data reflect the strength of Busby's candidacy for a number of reasons. First, the election is tied despite the significant Republican registration advantage reflected in our sample of 50 percent Republican to 32 percent Democrat. Secondly, Busby is able to maintain her competitive level of support despite hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by the National Republican Congressional Committee in anti-Busby attack advertising on television immediately after Busby's primary win. These ads were unanswered by either the Busby Campaign or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the survey period."

Much of the liberal blogosphere eagerly drank this Kool-Aid. Bowers happily linked to it and Daily Kos front-pager "McJoan" declared the results encouraging.

There was, however, one prominent voice of reason on the left: Markos Moulitsas, the proprietor of the Daily Kos. He wrote of the Lake poll's results:

"This is a district in which the former Congressman is in prison for corruption far beyond the usual "culture of corruption" craziness, and our candidate's own internal poll doesn't have her above the Kerry line for the district? I don't think this poll looks all that hot for us, frankly. In fact, I think it looks terrible."

"If voters were ready to punish Republicans for their culture of corruption, what better place for that to manifest itself than in the district of one of the most corrupt of the lot?"

  • Brian Goodman