That's the question the Courage Campaign and the political web site MyDD asked in a poll in the 50th Congressional District of California, where Francine Busby lost by four percentage points to former lobbyist Brian Bilbray. The election was held on 6 June and was meant to be a bell weather indicator for how Democrats would do in "red" districts this fall. The good news is that Busby got the Democratic base out, while Republicans largely stayed home. Had the race gone according to registration, Busby would have gotten about 25%.
The bad news, though, is that in order to win, Busby needed (and needs this fall) a big independent turn out (remember, decline to state or independent is the fastest growing segment of registered voters in the state) and they needed to vote for her. Neither happened in sufficient numbers.
The reasons are straightforward: Busby ran on the then D.C. theme of the "culture of corruption, " which was a big loser. Even though her predecessor, Randy Cunningham, is now clapped in irons in a prison somewhere for having accepted and encouraged millions of dollars in bribes, the voters did not believe that Busby could change that culture in D.C. The voters also did not care very much about immigration, or at least not in sufficient numbers to swing the vote. Busby's so called "gaffe," in which she said in a Spanish speaking room that "you do not need papers for voting, you don't need to be a registered voter to help," did not swing the election either. It was not the war, because Busby barely acknowledged that we are in Iraq (Arianna, you were right!).
She lost because she failed to tell voters, who overwhelmingly do not like Bush (59% negative) and who think the country is on the wrong track (58%), that she would stand up to Bush and hold him accountable. Busby was not, as Margaret Thatcher used to say, "crunchy." To get independent swing voters out of their chairs to vote, when those very voters are disgusted with both parties, Busby and other candidates in districts similar to hers (think Pombo, Ney and DeLay, unless that weasel gets back onto the ballot) must say, "I will stop Bush's policies dead in their tracks and force him to account for his acts."
Now this last assertion is inherent in our poll, but not explicit. So we're back in the field right now with five more questions to test this thesis. We'll let you know what we find out, but it seems obvious that running on a list of policies won't work and running away from the issues that matter to Americans won't work. So if progressives want to win this fall, take a page from Ned Lamont's campaign against Joe Lieberman: stand tall, demand that Bush and his cronies account for how they have brought this nation to such a shameful, crisis-ridden place and stop him from doing more damage.
One key point: our poll shows that if Busby stiffens her spine and tells voters who she is, she can win in the fall.
To see the full poll, go to Courage Campaign.