Amid all the press speculation about whether the Republicans are really in danger of losing control of Congress this fall, it is a wondrous thing that, on occasion, there is an actual election which can help us gauge that danger with hard numbers.
Such an election will be held today, in the swanky congressional district that encompasses northern San Diego and La Jolla.
I wish I could be there today, if only for the weather and the fish restaurants that are perched on cliffs high above the ocean. But there is still plenty of chew over, from a distance. This is the district, California-50, that was represented by Republican Duke Cunningham until he was recently forced to exchange his congressman's threads for prison garb. Now it's up for grabs, and a special election today might produce his successor.
Here's the important part: This is a solid Republican district (44 percent GOP registration, 30 percent Democratic) -- yet the frontrunner for the seat, according to all polls, is the Democratic candidate, Francine Busby.
That can probably be attributed to Cunningham's downfall -- he took $2 million in bribes - and the fact that Democrats seem energized by their argument that the GOP majority has engaged in a "culture of corruption."
If Busby was to win this seat tonight - she'd need 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff with the number two finisher - or if Busby simply finishes with the biggest vote share, this news would be rightly interpreted as a serious predictor of GOP trauma in November. Republican pollsters are saying this already; Bill McInturff told the Wall Street Journal's John Fund yesterday that a Busby win "would set off political shock waves."
It's not helping the GOP that it's running multiple candidates (who could then divide the Republican vote) -- and that most of them are avoiding all mention of President Bush, who is now posting a 32 percent approval rating in the Golden State.
The Republicans do have the raw numbers to keep that Republican seat, however. It's just a question of whether they are motivated to show up to vote at a time when many seem disillusioned. In any case, easterners like me won't know what happens until tomorrow.