California Republican Brian Bilbray, who on Tuesday defeated a Democrat whom he had trailed in polls for weeks to win an open House seat, credited his comeback to his tough stance on immigration, which mirrors the stern House bill that would reject any sort of amnesty for illegal aliens.
Conservatives, including potential presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, called the election results a clear repudiation of the Senate bill on immigration, which would offer the 11 million illegal aliens in the United States what amounts to amnesty.
“To the Bush administration, to the Senate, flat out: My opponent ran on your ticket on amnesty; I ran against it, on no amnesty,” Mr. Bilbray said on San Diego’s KOGO radio Tuesday night. “The message ought to be that now, and here, is the time to take care of this problem. . . What don’t you get about the word ‘illegal?’”
Mr. Bilbray strayed so far from the Republicans’ Washington leadership that Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is one of the main authors of the Senate immigration bill, canceled a fundraiser last week for him after the candidate publicly attacked Mr. McCain’s plan to grant what some see as amnesty to illegals.
The victory is a rebuke of President Bush’s call for a “guest-worker” program, which would let illegal aliens remain in the country while they apply for citizenship. Mr. Bush regularly says he opposes amnesty but has backed the Senate bill’s approach to immigration, which offers a “path to citizenship” for illegals, over the House’s “security only” proposals.
Mr. Gingrich said yesterday in a column that the California election proves that “fighting to control the border and defend the American people on illegal immigration (the House position) really works. Amnesty (the Senate bill) was clearly repudiated by Republican voters.”
“Look, you’ve had one election since the Senate bill passed,” Mr. Gingrich told The Washington Times yesterday. “You had a person who was pro-illegal immigrant and pro-amnesty; she lost. You had a person who was for controlling the border and against amnesty; he won. In any city in the world except Washington, that would be a hint.
“What the Bilbray campaign proved was, this stuff’s real.”
Mr. Bilbray will serve out the remaining seven months in the term of former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, now in jail for taking bribes while in Congress. On the same ballot as the special election, Mr. Bilbray and Mrs. Busby won their respective primaries for the regularly scheduled two-year term and so will face off again in November.