LETTER FROM WASHINGTON | DANA WILKIE
Speaking up

November 14, 2005

There are 435 lawmakers in the House of Representatives, so it's saying something that Rep. Duncan Hunter beats them all when it comes to the number of times he's appeared this year on the national Sunday news shows.

The El Cajon Republican has appeared fives times this year – on "Face the Nation," "Meet the Press," "This Week," "Late Edition" and "Fox News Sunday," according to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

These shows are venues that Washington lawmakers use to opine on everything from the war in Iraq to the war on drugs.

Californians, in fact, seem to be on the shows a lot: San Francisco's Nancy Pelosi has appeared four times on the talk shows, no doubt because of her position as House Minority Leader. Rep. Jane Harman of Torrance has appeared three times, and Rep. David Dreier, the Rules Committee chairman from San Dimas, has appeared twice.

Certainly Hunter's position as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee – particularly in a time of war – puts him in demand on the news shows. And then there's that quality that every television news editor loves: It's called candor.

"We always enjoy doing the Sunday news shows because they are widely watched by a large audience and they allow Congressman Hunter to speak candidly about the issues affecting our nation," said Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper. "They know when they ask Congressman Hunter to appear, they are going to get no-nonsense answers to whatever questions they ask. They know they are getting someone whose position on the issues remains consistent and who does not conform his opinion to changing polls or political pressure."

UPWARD AND ONWARD

In politics, it's always a good idea to be circumspect – to test the waters and consider the angles before moving ahead with your strategy. Which is why it can take so darned long for prospective political candidates to become official candidates, and why the candidate's announcement is usually an anticlimactic piece of theater.

Restaurants on the Run
Brian Bilbray, the Republican who represented the South Bay in Congress for six years, is mulling a run in next year's wide-open race to replace Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the Rancho Santa Fe Republican who is stepping aside as federal authorities investigate his ties to a defense contractor.

Headlines and news stories indicate that Bilbray "won't rule out" a comeback, is "considering" a return to public office and is "believed to be interested" in running for the seat.

The former Imperial Beach mayor, who served in Congress during the 1990s, has $200,000 left from the 2000 re-election campaign that he lost to Democratic Rep. Susan Davis. The Federal Election Commission has yet to hear from Bilbray that he is a formal candidate and that he intends to use that money to run for federal office.

But at this point, quite honestly, there seem very few things that would hinder a Bilbray candidacy.

While a House member need not live in the district that he or she represents, Bilbray recently pulled up stakes and moved to a home he owns in the Carlsbad area, and changed his voting registration address.

He's already studied the demographic angles: "(Cunningham's) congressional district is 25 percent of my old (congressional) district," he recently told a reporter. "And this is the region where I got most of my votes and did most of my fundraising."

He's studied the voter psychology: "Let's just say I'm a known commodity."

He's calculated the political advantages: "I would come back with seniority," he mused. "And that's a major consideration."

He's considered the impact on family: The kids are grown – the youngest having turned 20 this past summer.

And he claims to be getting a bunch of encouragement: Just before boarding a plane from D.C. to San Diego recently, Bilbray said, he cleaned out his voice mail, only to discover upon landing that it was full again – with messages from people urging him to run for Congress.

In political speak, we take that to mean: "How can I possibly let all those people down?"

Dana Wilkie is a Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and a longtime observer of California politics and social issues.

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