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SD congressional delegation faces shake-up

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San Diego County this year will definitely end up with a new member of its Congressional delegation. If things break a certain way, it could end up with two new members.

Even though that would be a turnover rate that San Diego hasn’t seen in some time, no one should assume it would foretell much change for the average San Diegan.

“Political scientists bet tomorrow will be like today, plus or minus random error,” said Ron King, a political scientist and professor at San Diego State University. “And we’re mostly right.”

San Diego hasn’t had two new representatives in one cycle in the time since its districts were renumbered and California gained seven seats from the 1990 census.

Two of the five local congressional races are expected to be close this year, and one of those races will definitely give the county a new legislator. Congressman Bob Filner, incumbent in the 51st district, has vacated his seat to run for San Diego mayor.

Regardless of who wins that race, Filner’s departure means San Diego’s delegation is losing 20 years of seniority.

The other tightly contested race in this cycle is in the 50th district, encompassing much of coastal North County, Escondido, La Jolla and parts of Pacific Beach and Bay Park.

But even that race, King said, is likely to end with incumbent Brian Bilbray keeping the seat he’s held since a special election in 2006 after the resignation of Duke Cunningham.

“Ninety percent of incumbent congresspersons running for election win, and the vast majority are not competitive,” King said. “Even when we call them competitive, they’re not.”

King’s perspective is based on the oft-cited incumbency effect. Districts are drawn to be uncompetitive, and office-holders have large advantages in name recognition and fundraising.

Bilbray’s running against two well-known San Diego politicians, as well as a cadre of newcomers. The top two opponents are Democrats, current Port Commissioner and past president of the San Diego City Council Scott Peters and former California Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña.

Other candidates in the race include Republicans John Stahl, Wayne Iverson, John Subka and Gene Hamilton Carswell; Democrat Shirley Decourt-Park and independents Jack Doyle and Ehab Shehata.

If the race ends up defying King’s expectations, falling into the 10 percent that produce new representatives, San Diego could see more than three decades of experience in Washington, D.C. leave its delegation, between the departing Bilbray and Filner.

But that wouldn’t matter much either, according to King.

“The vast majority of district-level favors are pretty much locked in,” he said. “Over time, you get certain trades that people can make, deals they work out and other arrangements, but whether military bases in San Diego close or not, there’s not much difference whether it’s Filner or anyone else.”

The job of a freshman legislator is to make contacts, build support and win committee placements, he said. Losing senior committee seats is the only meaningful loss for a region, and even that is tempered by the extent to which district-level favors are already in place, according to King.

Filner’s seat is one of the most reliably Democratic seats in the country, covering all of Imperial County as well as the border region of San Diego County, Chula Vista, National City and Imperial Beach.

The main contenders in the primary are former Assemblywoman and State Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny and State Sen. and former Councilman and Assemblyman Juan Vargas, both Democrats. Others in the race are Democrats Daniel Ramirez and John Brooks and Republicans Michael Crimmins, Xanthi Gionis and Bernard Portley.

“It doesn’t mean we’ll get a new congressperson,” King said. “It means we’ll get a new name with the same voting patterns.”

Since the majority of freshman legislators are experienced on the state or city level, their adjustment period in Washington is relatively insignificant, King said.

The other three congressional districts are unlikely to see any shake-up.

In the 49th district, Republican Darrell Issa is facing Democrat Jerry Tetalman, progressive Dick Eiden and independent Albin Novinec. Issa came into office in 2002 and now holds one of the most influential seats in the capitol as the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Congressman Duncan D. Hunter is expected to advance in the 52nd district against fellow Republican Terri Linnell, Democrats Connie Frankowiak and David Secor and libertarian Michael Benoit. Hunter took office in 2008, moving into the seat held by his father since 1980.

Democratic Congresswoman Susan Davis faces Republican candidate Nick Popaditch in the 53rd district and is expected to win another term.

Davis would become the county’s longest-serving representative if Bilbray were to lose in the 50th district.

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