tags: Targeted Races

Bilbray (R-CA-50)

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RESULT: Brian Bilbray (R) 50% – Nick Leibham (D) 46% 

The Race:

U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray is on his second tour of duty with the U.S. Congress. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1994. In 2001, he lost his seat to Democrat Susan Davis 50 percent to 46 percent, after voting for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. [San Diego Union Tribune, 10/11/08; Almanac of American Politics, accessed 10/21/08] After his defeat, Bilbray went on to work as a lobbyist for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, “an anti-illegal-immigration group.” [San Diego Union Tribune, 6/7/06]He currently serves as co-chairman of FAIR’s National Board of Advisors. [Brian Bilbray for Congress, accessed 10/21/08]

Bilbray saw a chance to get back into Congress when the 50th District’s representative, Republican Randy “Duke” Cunningham, was imprisoned after pleading guilty to evading taxes and accepting bribes. Bilbray won the Republican nomination with 15 percent of the vote against a slate of three more-conservative opponents, who “criticized Bilbray for serving as a lobbyist and claimed his voting record in Congress had been too liberal. Bilbray highlighted his work with a non-profit group that opposed illegal immigration.” In the June 6 special election, Bilbray beat Democrat Francine Busby 50 percent to 45 percent, and “Bilbray said that anti-immigration sentiment drove his victory.” [Almanac of American Politics, accessed 10/21/08] Bilbray also won the rematch of the race in the November general election, beating Busby 54 percent to 43 percent. [Cook Political Report, accessed 10/21/08] Bilbray has continued to oppose comprehensive immigration reform in his position as chairman of the bipartisan House Immigration Reform Caucus, “and his team cites his work on this front as central to his popularity at home.” [Roll Call, 10/17/08]

The 2008 race features a new opponent in Nick Leibham, a San Diego attorney and former high school government and history teacher who served as a congressional aide to Rep. Gary Ackerman, and as a criminal prosecutor with the City of San Diego. [Nick Leibham for Congress, accessed 10/21/08] According to Roll Call, “Leibham campaign spokesman Alec Evans contends that the issue that carried Bilbray to victory in his three 2006 elections, illegal immigration, is no longer the issue of greatest concern to the district’s voters.” [Roll Call, 10/17/08] However, both candidates say immigration is a vital issue, and both agree that employers who hire undocumented workers should be penalized. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/11/08]

On the basis of registration, Leibham has a hill to climb. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, registration in the district favors Republicans 41 percent to 31 percent, but Leibham “sees the district trending Democratic.” University of California San Diego political science professor Gary Jacobson was less positive about Leibham’s chances for victory. He said that since 1966, Democrats “have never won a district where Republicans had this type of registration advantage.” [San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/11/08] Leibham did receive a political boost when 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Vice President Al Gore appeared at one of his fundraisers in September. [San Diego Union Tribune, 10/27/08] And according to a press release posted on his campaign website, Leibham considers Bilbray “a one-trick pony,” referencing Bilbray’s focus on illegal immigration during a Jan. 8 kickoff party for his campaign.

The Bilbray Position:

ENFORCEMENT ONLY. Bilbray has been a longtime foe of common sense immigration reform and an advocate of restrictionist policies. His Citizenship Reform Act, introduced in 1995, would have amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to remove the right to citizenship automatically granted to people born in the United States. “It explicitly distinguishes between legal and illegal aliens, thus eliminating the automatic citizenship status which creates a powerful magnet for illegals to access and abuse the existing welfare state,” a press release from his office said. [Congressional press release, 12/12/95] In 1996, Bilbray voted to allow states to refuse to educate the children of illegal immigrants. “We are ending illegal immigrants’ guaranteed right to a free education, a right which cost California taxpayers $ 1.7 billion last year,” he said in a press release. “Guaranteed public education for illegal immigrants has disproportionately impacted our working class school districts, like Imperial Beach, where I grew up. We should not ask the working class of this country to bear this responsibility when the federal government is not willing to uphold its responsibility to secure our borders.” [Congressional press release, 3/21/96] In May 2007, Bilbray wrote an op-ed for the Politico, in which he said Congress should not “allow a policy to move forward that rewards illegal activity and puts 12 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.” [Politico, 5/15/07] In March 2008 Bilbray, along with Rep. Health Shuler, D-N.C., wrote an editorial for the Washington Times in which they touted their Secure America through Verification and Enforcement Act, or SAVE Act. “The SAVE Act provides a three-pronged approach to curb illegal immigration: enhanced border security, employment verification and dramatically increased enforcement of our nation’s existing laws,” they wrote. “However, what’s not included in this bill amnesty has given it so much widespread appeal. While we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws. We should not reward those who come to our country illegally and punish those who abide by the law.” [Washington Times, 3/14/08]

Rep. Bilbray’s campaign website continues his attacks on illegal immigration. “Illegal immigration is one of the most pressing issues facing our state and our nation,” the website states. “Over the next year, I will endeavor to commit as many candidates as possible to join me by pledging their support to ten essential border security and immigration reforms.” Among the reforms are expediting the deportation of undocumented immigrants, allowing the military to be deployed on the border, completing an extensive border fence, hitting employers with stiff penalties for hiring undocumented workers, prohibiting undocumented immigrants from receiving Social Security benefits and “limiting birthright citizenship to the children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.” He also wants to see “comprehensive border and immigration enforcement legislation to end countless other loopholes that benefit illegal aliens and those who profit from their crime of illegal presence in the United States, to give law enforcement the tools and permission to enforce the laws and to compensate states for the financial impact of illegal immigration.” [Brian Bilbray for Congress, accessed 10/21/08]

The Leibham Position:

ENFORCEMENT PLUS. Nick Leibham has mentioned illegal immigration only infrequently throughout the campaign, and his campaign web site lists no immigration position. [Nick Leibham for Congress, accessed 10/21/08] During an interview with the progressive political blog Calitics, Leibham said that the United States must secure its borders. “The most fundamental job of a nation is to protect its sovereignty, and when you can’t secure your borders and ports, you can’t protect your sovereignty. … As a nation, we need to recognize that we are going to have to put a significant amount of money, time and effort into suring up our southern border,” he said. After that, companies that hire illegal immigrants should be targeted, he said. “As a former prosecutor … if you really want to dry up illegal immigration, you hold employers accountable, and I’ll be the only one up on stage that has ever prosecuted an employer for hiring illegal immigrants. After that’s done, you get to other questions.” [Calitics blog, accessed 10/21/08] As the North County Times reported in March 2008, some voters in the District have been frustrated by the candidate’s failure to articulate a clear immigration position. However, Liebham did tell a crowd that he disagreed with Rep. Bilbray’s immigration stance. [North County Times, 3/13/08]

California 50th