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The race between Rep. Brian Bilbray and Francine Busby in California’s 50th Congressional District may be blowout or a barnburner, depending who you ask.

Political consultant Tom Shepard said he’s expecting a tight race.

“My intuition tells me that it’s a lot closer than some people give it credit for being,” said Shepard, who lives in the district.

Shepard said both campaigns were more active than he expected in recent weeks, and he points to last minute spending, including nearly $20,000 reported by the National Republican Congressional Committee yesterday, as an indication that Bilbray may be in trouble.

But Jack Orr, a long-time North County political consultant and close friend of Bilbray’s, said he expects the congressman to walk away with the race.

Orr said the 14-point Republican registration advantage in the 50th District is just too big for Busby to overcome, and he predicts Bilbray will win by at least five percentage points.

“You can smoke some shit if you want to and come up with scenarios … but there are too many Republicans,” Orr said. “If I’m wrong I will walk out my door into the ocean and never come back.”

We’ll know soon enough who is right.

Shepard said Busby will have to be within 3 points of Bilbray when absentee returns are announced shortly after 8 p.m. if she hopes to win the election. Other observers say Busby will still have a fighting chance if she’s within 5 points of Bilbray’s absentee total.

DANIEL STRUMPF

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