A Fight to the End in District 52

Peters narrowly beats Saldana by 0.6 percent

In the race to represent California’s 52nd U.S. Congressional District, it was a tight race between two Democrats battling to face the incumbent.

As of Wednesday morning, Rep. Brian Bilbray took the lead in the race with 40 percent.

But the race between the second runner-up was tight -- Scott Peters narrowly beat Lori Saldana by a half of a percent with 22.58 percent vs. 21.98.

The race is the poster-child for the dynamism of California’s new Open Primary, as the bulk of Tuesday’s battle will be fought between Democrats Lori Saldana and Scott Peters.

The winner will likely face Rep. Brian Bilbray in the November runoff.

“If I were Brian at 41 percent, I’d be worried that the two Democrats are pulling in more votes than him,” Peters told NBCSanDiego. “I think he’s in for quite a fight in this district.”

Saldana, who spent six years in the Assembly, said she was outspent by Peters 4 to 1.

The race is also representative of the new boundaries created by redistricting. The district now includes coastal communities like Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Coronado -- adding some Democratic voters to the mix.

Bilbray has served six terms in Congress in two separate stints. But his Republican Party holds only a 36 to 33 percent registration edge in the new 52nd District. And more than one in every four voters is an independent.

“The one thing I know about this district is, the independents will decide this election," Bilbray says.

Jon Elliott, who admits to being a Saldana supporter, said if Democrats want to win a majority in the House, they must vote strategically for the right opposition to Bilbray.

He added the major campaign difference between Saldana and Peters is the way they reached voters. Peters certainly won name recognition through his on-air ads, but Saldana was more active in the neighborhoods of the district, going door-to-door and introducing herself, Elliott said.

However to discount Bilbray in the race would be a mistake, said political analyst Tony Manolatos.

“We’re looking at a three-headed monster,” Manolatos said.

“If you use conventional wisdom, Bilbray gets in. But there’s a chance that Peters and Saldana could be the top two.”

Peters appeals to a lot of moderate republicans, Manolatos added, and political insiders know better than to rule Saldana out.

“He is not by any means to the left of Saldana, but she’s a fighter too.”

The suspense has supporters scrambling for last-minute votes. A Tweet from City Councilman Todd Gloria (who is running unopposed in his district) is evidence of this, and volunteers called voters this afternoon and evening.

"The last few weeks you can feel the excitement building, the awareness of the election and people wanting a change in Congress," Peters said.

And the chatter around Saldana was active as well. She looked back on her campaign with pride, she said.

"If you look at it from a competitive point of view, it's more how can you be your best," Saldana said. "How can you run the best campaign, get your message out there."

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