The US
Democrats had a majority in their House of Representatives for forty
years, all the way from 1954 to 1994. Then there was a landslide to the
Republican Party in 1994 as a mid-term protest against President Bill
Clinton. In November this year it looks as though there will be another
landslide, this time against President George Walker Bush.

The
probability is that the Democrats will have a majority in the next
House (110th Congress) and Nancy Pelosi (Democratic member for “San
Francisco”) will become the first-ever female Speaker of the US House
of Representatives. But before this happens there will be an unusually
interesting special election.

Imagine a district combining all
blue ribbon liberal seats such as Bennelong, Berowra, Bradfield,
Mackellar, North Sydney and Warringah and you’ve got a fair description
of the 50th Congressional district of California, in the far south of
the state in suburban San Diego. Last year investigative journalists
working for San Diego’s biggest newspaper unearthed a skeleton in the
cupboard of sitting Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the member
since 1990.

In March Cunningham was convicted of tax evasion
and the acceptance of $2.4 million (US) in bribes from defence
contractors. After the truth was discovered he decided in November 2005
to resign his seat, effective from the first of December last year, and
he is now serving a term of eight years in a federal prison.

The
special election to replace him will be on Tuesday 6 June and I predict
victory for the Democratic candidate, Francine Busby, who ran against
Cunningham in November 2004. So why has the seat been vacant for six
months? Under the American system for special elections in California
there are no primaries as such. Instead there is an election which is
the equivalent. That took place on Tuesday 11 April. Because no
candidate secured a majority there will be a run-off on 6 June.

In
the first round vote there were candidates from all parties running
together on the same ballot. There were 14 Republican candidates, two
Democrats, one Libertarian and one Independent. Here are the votes of
those candidates who won at least five per cent of the vote:

Francine Busby (Dem) 59,816 43.7 per cent
Brian Bilbray (Rep) 20,880 15.3 per cent
Eric Roach (Rep) 19,827 14.5 per cent
Howard Kaloogian (Rep) 10,168 7.4 per cent
Bill Morrow (Rep) 7,343 5.4 per cent

Total votes 137,062

The
Republicans are so divided ideologically one cannot assume a run-off
would work like the preferential vote works in Australia. Had there
been a preferential vote the transfers from Morrow and Kaloogian would
have enabled Roach to overtake Bilbray and Roach would have won this
Republican seat. However, the circumstances of the Busby-Bilbray
run-off mean most US pundits are tipping Busby to win.

Peter Fray

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