Francine Busby supporters are starting to pile into the D Street Bar and Grill in Encinitas, where the Busby campaign is holding its election night celebration. The mood is mellow at the moment as the crowd, mostly clad in yellow “Busby 2006” T-shirts, awaits the candidate’s arrival as there’s little to celebrate at the moment.

Rep. Brian Bilbray has an early lead and 57.3 percent of the absentee votes while Busby has 39.7 percent, according to the county Registrar of Voters.

Jan McClure, a Busby campaign volunteer, was sanguine about Busby’s chances of victory.

“Whatever happens, it doesn’t matter … We have built a grassroots of people and that’s more than I expected,” McClure said. Democrats “have taken back the House … I feel like we saved our country tonight and that’s what Francine wanted, also.”

Meanwhile, Bilbray’s signs proclaiming he’s “tough on illegal immigration” are everywhere in the Palm Court room at the US Grant Hotel. That’s the room where the Republican Party of San Diego’s hanging out. Bilbray hasn’t made an appearance yet, but Republicans from across the county are munching on cheese and crackers and toasting with wine.

The GOP’s throwing a grand ol’ party, indeed, with a piano-man hitting everything from honky-tonk to the blues on an electric keyboard, accompanied by canned drum beats and sound effects. The front of his keyboard is draped in a navy blue plastic tablecloth that’s been spray-painted and stenciled with white stars. So has his suit jacket.

Kurt Bardella, a Bilbray spokesman, appeared quite pleased with the absentee results.

“They came in how they came in,” he said, “and obviously, we’re happy with the results.”

Now, it’s a waiting game for the same-day votes, which will start rolling in about 10:30.

“We expect to keep our lead, though, sure, it’ll dwindle a little bit,” Bardella said.

KELLY BENNETT and DANIEL STRUMPF

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