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GOP loses another congressional seat in California after redistricting

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POSTED November 16, 2012 9:16 p.m.


SAN DIEGO (AP) — Democrat Scott Peters completed his party's landslide in California by defeating U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray on Friday in the race to represent a redrawn San Diego-area congressional district.

The win by Peters in the 52nd congressional district was the last congressional race in the state called by The Associated Press after the Nov. 6 election.

Democrats picked up five additional seats in the California congressional delegation and now represent 38 districts compared to 15 for Republicans.

The loss by Bilbray came one day after Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren lost his re-election bid to Democratic challenger Ami Bera in the redrawn 7th district near Sacramento.

"After redistricting, it was clear that Lungren and Bilbray would have a real fight on their hands so the outcome doesn't come as a shock," said Jack Pitney, political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.

The once-a-decade makeover of California's congressional map by an independent citizens panel presented big opportunities for Democrats, who also won supermajorities in both houses of the state Legislature.

Lungren, who conceded his race Friday, went from a district where his party enjoyed a 3.4 percent registration edge over Democrats to one with a deficit of 1.4 percent.

Bilbray, 61, faced a much bigger challenge. Republicans had a 10.5 percent voter registration lead over Democrats in the district he had represented since 2006. His new district gave Republicans an edge of less than 2 percent.

Peters, a Port of San Diego commissioner and former San Diego city councilman, led Friday with 50.9 percent of the vote, compared with Bilbray's 49 percent. Peters led by about 5,100 votes with more than 279,700 ballots counted.

Reached in Washington, Peters, 54, said Bilbray called to wish him well and offer help during the transition. Peters said he has been working "dawn to dusk" during orientation week for new members of Congress.

"It's a relief to get (Bilbray's) phone call because part of my day has been answering questions about whether it's over. The math looked good, but it's good to have it official," he said.

Bilbray said he would continue to fight for the issues he believes in and benefit San Diego, only in a different capacity. He was not more specific about his plans.

"While Scott and I differed sharply on how to handle the issues facing our nation, now is the time to put those differences aside and find common ground to address our country's many challenges," Bilbray said in a statement.

Bilbray had been a leading House Republican who took a hard line against illegal immigration. His defeat marks his second exit from Congress. He represented another San Diego area from 1995 to 2001.

The newly drawn district was highly competitive after its creation by the independent panel in 2010, the same year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down limits on outside political spending. Outside groups poured more than $8.2 million into the race.

Peters reported raising nearly $2.2 million for his campaign through the end of September, the most recent fundraising figures available. Bilbray raised more than $2.1 million through the third quarter reporting period.

National Democrats and Republicans kept a close eye on the contests, eager to pick up seats in the largest-in-the-nation congressional delegation. With Democrats increasing their number in California's delegation, it gives the party a boost in trying to retake the House majority in two years.

Super PACs and other outside groups flooded California's House races with more money than any other state under new rules allowing unrestricted outside political spending. Spending reached at least $54 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.



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