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Republicans retain US House seat in California

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, June 7 (Reuters) A former Republican congressman won a bitter US House of Representatives race in California, giving President George W Bush's Republican Party its first dose of good political news in months.

On a day when eight states held primaries, Republican Brian Bilbray narrowly beat back a challenge by Democrat Francine Busby in a conservative district north of San Diego yesterday. The two were vying to replace Randy Cunningham, a former Republican congressman who was imprisoned for taking bribes.

The race had been watched closely for clues about whether Bush's dismal approval ratings and issues like corruption and immigration were taking a toll on Republicans five months before elections that will decide control of Congress.

Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota also held primaries on Tuesday to select candidates for November, when all 435 seats in the House, 33 Senate seats and 36 governorships will be up for grabs.

Two high-profile Republican incumbents turned aside primary challenges that fizzled, with Alabama Gov Bob Riley beating former state chief justice Roy Moore and Montana Sen Conrad Burns defeating state Sen Bob Keenan.

Alabama voters also gave overwhelming approval to a state constitutional ban on gay marriage.

In the special election to replace Cunningham, Democrats hoped Busby's strong showing in the solidly Republican district could be a sign of potential trouble for Republicans in November.

Democrats need to pick up 15 House seats and six Senate seats to regain control in each chamber, giving them the power to set the legislative agenda and more effectively challenge Bush.

Both parties poured millions of dollars into what became a rough campaign, with the candidates battling over immigration and Busby hammering Bilbray, a former congressman, for his work as a lobbyist.

Bilbray will serve only to the end of Cunningham's term and will have to face Busby again in November.

INCUMBENT WINS IN ALABAMA An improving economy and his leadership after Hurricane Katrina battered Alabama aided Riley's win over Moore, a hero to Christian conservatives after he was removed from the state Supreme Court in a dispute over a Ten Commandments monument. Moore's campaign never got off the ground.

''We have almost transformed Alabama in the last four years,'' Riley told cheering supporters. ''Our economy is as strong as any, our test scores are up, we have a surplus and gave the first tax cut in 70 years.'' Alabama's Democratic Lt Gov Lucy Baxley, whose campaign slogan was ''We Love Lucy,'' beat former Gov Don Siegelman, who spent election day at his corruption trial, for the right to face Riley.

In Montana, state Senate President Jon Tester rolled to a surprisingly easy Democratic primary win over state Auditor John Morrison for the nomination to battle Burns in November.

Burns, who became a prime Democratic target as his popularity fell after being drawn into a scandal involving disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, easily beat Keenan.

California State Treasurer Phil Angelides narrowly defeated state Controller Steve Westly in a Democratic primary fight for the chance to challenge Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who easily won renomination.

Former Gov Jerry Brown won the Democratic nomination for California attorney general.

In Iowa, Secretary of State Chet Culver won a three-way battle for the Democratic nomination to face Republican Rep. Jim Nussle for governor in November. The winner will succeed retiring Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack, who is pondering a run for the White House.

Tom Kean Jr, son of a popular former governor, won the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey in November.

REUTERS SHB KN1623

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