Chris Matthews? Katherine Harris? But first, California

A look ahead at 2006.

Published April 11, 2006 7:45PM (EDT)

We'll get a glimpse at the Democrats' prospects in the 2006 elections tonight when the votes are counted in the special election being held to replace convicted Republican Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham. California's 50th Congressional District should be pretty safe for the GOP, but a bevy of Republican candidates means Democrat Francine Busby has a shot at claiming 50 percent and avoiding a runoff she'd probably lose.

The key may be GOP turnout; if Republicans in a funk don't turn out to vote, Busby could sail into office on the wings of some highly motivated Democrats. The Wall Street Journal's John Fund sees an ominous sign for the GOP: Republican absentee ballots have been coming in at what he calls "disturbingly low rates."

We'll check in on the results later this evening. Other '06 stories will take a little longer to unfold, but we'll be watching them in coming days, too. Among them: The rumor, first floated at the Huffington Post today, that Hardball's Chris Matthews may jump into the Pennsylvania Senate race. The Philadelphia Daily News' Will Bunch notes that Matthews would have to run as an independent -- it's too late to get on the ballot as a Republican or a Democrat -- but that he "may actually think he could get elected" by running as the only major pro-choice candidate in the race.

In Florida, meanwhile, the Katherine Harris death watch continues. The editors of the National Review are saying that it's time for Harris to face the facts: She won't beat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in November, so she ought to get out of the race now, while there's still (a little) time for the Republicans to run someone else. Harris seems determined to stay in the race, but the latest blast of bad press isn't going to help: A new Associated Press story on turmoil among her campaign staff paints the former secretary of state as a "micromanager" who is "easily angered and sometimes bursts into tears" and "refuses to accept" what she doesn't want to hear.

Update: Francine Busby appears to be headed for a runoff against Republican Brian Bilbray. With all the precincts reporting but about 10,000 provisional ballots still to count, Busby has 43.92 percent of the vote. Bilbray has 15.15 percent.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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