SAN DIEGO — Ten days after the last vote was cast, Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Carlsbad) conceded defeat Friday to Democratic challenger Scott Peters in the high-spending, mudslinging contest in the 52nd District.
Mail and provisional ballots were still being counted when Bilbray issued his concession, but both sides had concluded that the result was no longer in doubt.
Peters, 54, an environmental lawyer and former San Diego City Council member, held a 50.92%-to-49.08% edge over Bilbray, 61, who has served six terms in Congress.
The race was the final congressional contest to be decided in California. Bilbray joins Mary Bono Mack of Palm Springs and Dan Lungren of suburban Sacramento as congressional Republicans from California defeated by the cumulative impact of redistricting, demographic change and a strong turnout among Democrats.
The state’s congressional delegation stands at 38 Democrats and 15 Republicans.
Bilbray called to congratulate Peters. It was not long-distance. Both were in Washington, Bilbray preparing for the lame-duck session of Congress, Peters attending briefings for newly elected representatives.
Bilbray had represented the GOP-dominated 50th District, centered in the suburbs of northern San Diego County, since 2006. He was first elected from a different district as part of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” movement in 1994 but was defeated in 2000.
The 50th District had a 10-point GOP edge among registered voters. But the newly drawn 52nd District is 32% Democratic, 35% Republican and 27% independent. It includes the city of San Diego and the suburbs of Poway and Coronado.
With a different district, Bilbray did not stress what has long been a persuasive conservative issue in his previous campaigns: his strong stand against illegal immigration.
In a prepared statement, Bilbray said that he will “continue fighting for the issues I believe in and that benefit San Diego, only in a different capacity.” He added: “I look forward to finally having the opportunity to spend time with my family and seven grandkids.”
Peters said he and Bilbray had agreed that “it was a tough, hard-fought campaign.”
The two parties and outside groups funded a barrage of venomous TV commercials.
Pro-Peters ads portrayed Bilbray as beholden to special interests and noted that he has two taxpayer-funded pensions. The Bilbray ads claimed that Peters pushed a financially ruinous plan to boost public employee pensions. Peters served two terms on the City Council and was defeated in a race for city attorney in 2008.
With much of the television advertising coming from the national parties, local issues were diminished during the campaign, which focused on Social Security and Medicare.
Carl Luna, political science professor at San Diego Mesa College, said that while the TV advertising in the race was “particularly noxious,” it was well within the tradition of negative campaigning in the state.
“The future is also the past and the present,” he said.