Bilbray draws two strong challengers in key race

Gordon Clanton

North Coast columnist

The redistricting process of 2010 was not kind to Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray. His newly drawn 52nd Congressional District has a Republican registration edge of only 3 percent, compared with 9 percent in his old district. The new district is about one-third Republican, one-third Democratic, and one-third decline-to-state.

This is deja vu Groundhog Day all over again for Bilbray. The redistricting of 2000 reduced his margin so that he lost to Democrat Susan Davis.

Bilbray has drawn two very able Democratic challengers, Lori Saldana and Scott Peters. I like them both.

Ordinarily, I hate it when this happens — two capable, electable Democrats gunning for each other with money that could be spent in the contest with Bilbray.

But under the new open primary system, having two strong Democrats on the June ballot all but guarantees a November runoff between Bilbray and one of the Dems. If either Peters or Saldana drop out, Bilbray would have a very good chance of winning the seat in June with a majority of all votes cast. Ugh!

The new 52nd CD includes Poway, Scripps Ranch, part of Carmel Valley, Mira Mesa, Clairemont, University City, La Jolla, Pacific Beach, part of downtown San Diego, and Coronado.

Because this is that rare congressional seat that could be won by either party, this election has implications for the Dem campaign to re-capture the House. And if a Democrat wins, the Dems gain an unprecedented 3-2 edge in the SD County delegation. Both parties will spend big here.

Scott Peters, from La Jolla, served two terms on the San Diego City Council, 2000-2008. He was the first city council president. He is chair of the San Diego Port District.

Scott is endorsed by the local Labor Council, former Congresswoman Lynn Schenk, former state Senator Dede Alpert, Assembly members Toni Atkins, Marty Block, and Ben Hueso, and SD Councilman Todd Gloria. Scott has the money to go the distance.

Lori Saldana served in the California Assembly, 2004 to 2010. Lori grew up in Clairemont and still lives there, in the heart of the new district. On the 2009 Capitol Weekly legislative scorecard, where 100 is a perfect liberal score, Lori scored 97.

Lori is endorsed by SD Councilmembers Marti Emerald and Tony Young, former Councilmember Donna Frye, and several Democratic clubs.

Who has the better chance of beating Bilbray in November? I’m leaning toward Scott Peters.

Gordon Clanton teaches Sociology at San Diego State University. He welcomes comments at