Republicans Breathe a Big Sigh of Relief After California Primary

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," on June 10, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Let's check out our "Ups and Downs" for the week.

UP: Republicans. They're breathing a big-time sigh of relief after winning Tuesday's special election in California's closely watched 50th District. In it, Republican Brian Bilbray beat back a challenge from Democrat Francine Busby. Bilbray says immigration was a big factor in the race.



BRIAN BILBRAY, CALIF. REPUBLICAN CONGRESIONAL CANDIDATE: Hopefully, both the White House and the Senate will look at this race and say, it's an indication that the 50th District, at least, doesn't think amnesty's the answer, that we shouldn't be giving Social Security benefits to people who are illegally here.


BARNES: You know, there were a couple things about that race were interesting, and Bilbray touched on one of them, and that's the immigration issue. Clearly, immigrant bashing, or illegal-immigrant bashing, whatever you want to call it - I call it immigrant bashing myself - but it - it helped. It worked. And of course, San Diego is right near the Mexican border, and so it may help there more than in other places. But you knew that when it worked there, that other Republicans were going to follow suit. And we already see Senator Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania using the immigrant issue. He's trailing in his race for re-election.

The other thing is that Republicans were terrified that they were going to lose this election and it would set off panic. You know, I mean, this had been a Republican seat. Bush won it by 55 percent in 2004. But by losing it — you know, the Republican voters, consultants, candidates and all panic. But what happened was, a normal election. Francine Busby got 45 percent, which is about what John Kerry got and Al Gore got and so on. And, among the other things that didn't work was this idea of a "culture of corruption." It didn't — you know, the prior congressman, Duke Cunningham, is now in the slammer for taking bribes. It didn't work.

This to me, Mort, does not look like a precursor to a 1994-type landslide this time for Democrats.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Yes, well I think the jury is still out on that. And a lot depends on what happens in Iraq, frankly.

But look, this - I think Tuesday was a good news/bad news day for Republicans and for President Bush. On the good news front, despite his low poll ratings and, you know, the "culture of corruption" allegations and all of that kind of stuff, they kept that seat. And as you say, the numbers were just about what they were in 2004.

The bad news is that Bilbray's use of the immigration issue makes it more unlikely that there's going to be any agreement between the House and the Senate on an immigration bill. And if that happens, then the Republicans look impotent. I mean, they run the whole government; they've created this issue. And they can't do anything about it.

And the second part of that is that the House Republicans have put the Republican Party in the position of Pete Wilson in California: anti- Hispanic. They're — the Republicans are in the process of handing the Hispanic vote to the Democrats for the foreseeable future.

Now in other states, there's other good news — or, actually, California some good news there for Arnold Schwarzenegger in that he's getting Phil Angelides, the state treasurer, as his opponent, who's the weaker of the two candidates in the Democratic primary. But, in Montana, the bad news is that Conrad Burns, who's well tarnished because of the Abramoff scandal, is getting Jon Tester as an opponent, and he is the stronger of the two Democrats in that race.

BARNES: Yes, well, I dispute a couple of things you said, Mort, or at least express them a little differently. I don't know whether Jon Tester is the right candidate to beat Conrad Burns.

KONDRACKE: Well, he was better than Morrison.

BARNES: Well, but he's a little liberal. You know, Montana's not exactly a liberal state. He may be too liberal.

And I still think there's a 50-50 chance of getting an immigration bill, and I think Republicans need one. I do agree that the Hispanic vote is up for grabs here, and President Bush has done such an incredible job of bringing Hispanics into the Republican Party. But, you know, they're not there permanently. And this could change things.

You know, in Alabama, it was interesting because the Ten Commandments — you know, Roy Moore, ran for governor in the Republican primary against the incumbent, Bob Riley. Riley crushed him. And in the lieutenant governor's race, a newcomer, Luther Strange — who I happen to know — beat George Wallace Jr. with 58 percentage points. There's going to be a runoff, but Strange is way ahead.

KONDRACKE: OK. Down: advocates for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Despite President Bush's public prodding, the amendment failed in the Senate, picking up only one additional vote since the last time it came up.

Here's a sample of this week's Senate debate.


SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, R-Kan.: We're making progress across the country in the states. And we will not stop until the union - until marriage as a union of a man and a woman is protected in this country.



SEN. DICK DURBIN, D-Ill.: It strikes me that it's not about the preservation of marriage, it's about the preservation of the majority.


KONDRACKE: Well, I mean, this - look, you have to admit that this vote was an attempt on the part of the Republicans to appease their religious-right base.

BARNES: Republicans didn't want to vote on it.

KONDRACKE: The religious right did.

BARNES: Well, they insisted on the vote. The Republicans in the Senate, they didn't want to do.

KONDRACKE: Can I finish saying what I'm saying?

BARNES: Yes, go ahead.

KONDRACKE: It was an attempt to appease them because the religious right feels as though the Republican Party has not done what the right expected it do in power in order to satisfy their issues.

But what I find fascinating about this is the role reversal here. Here you have conservatives, who are usually dedicated to states' rights, saying that, no, no, no, we got to change the national Constitution on this issue. And the Democrats, who usually disdain states' rights, are saying, "Oh, no, leave this whole issue up to the states."

BARNES: Yes, it is the opposite of abortion, where Republicans want the states to decide, and Democrats, you know, are happy with the Supreme Court deciding.

But I don't think there's any inconsistency here on the part of conservatives. Why are they for a constitutional amendment? Because they think nothing else will work to preserve traditional marriage in America. Otherwise, you're going to get — like Massachusetts, judges are going to order the gay marriage to go into effect.

But remember one other thing, Mort: this constitutional amendment wouldn't cover civil unions. It wouldn't stop any arrangements that can be legislated so gay couples can get the same rights, you know, to pensions and Social Security.

KONDRACKE: So why don't the Republicans come out for those things?

BARNES: Well why don't the Democrats do it? They haven't done that.

All right.

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