The contest to replace Randy "Duke" Cunningham as 50th Congressional District representative became the sixth-most-expensive House race in the nation in terms of money raised by candidates last week.
With that as backdrop, a dozen Republican hopefuls squared off March 1 at a Rancho Santa Fe Republican Women forum.
Non-Republican candidates were not invited to attend.
Speaking one-by-one to the gathering of about 120 people at the Rancho Santa Fe Country Club and later fielding a few questions, candidates addressed issues such as immigration policy, security and loyalty to conservative principles.
But, in the end, money and ethics overshadowed the discussion in light of the specter of Cunningham's removal from office due to his guilty plea to federal bribery charges.
The April 11 special election will be the first step in filling the remainder of Cunningham's term. This non-partisan election will be followed by an expired term runoff between top vote-getting party representatives - the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian and Independent winners from April - held June 6 ballots side-by-side with party primaries to pick nominees for the regular November congressional election.
The complex process has mystified voters.
"It's been very confusing for voters and will be even more confusing in June when voters will vote in a dual election for candidates from all parties in a runoff and on a separate ballot vote in a partisan primary to nominate candidates for November," said Cathy Glaser, campaign services supervisor of the San Diego County Registrar of Voters.
The short time between Cunningham's resignation and his term replacement election has fueled candidate spending in what once was considered a safe Republican district, one in which a Republican conceivably could win the April special election with 20 percent of the vote, or less, and face a Democrat, Libertarian and Independent in June.
The district that runs from Escondido to Del Mar has about 159,000 registered Republicans and 107,000 Democrats.
"You get big spending in races that are close," said Gary Jacobson, a UCSD political science professor who authored "Money in Congressional Elections: The Politics of Congressional Elections."
Candidate spending through Jan. 1 had marked the race as 14th most expensive House election in the nation, ninth in terms of candidate self-funding, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics that maintains extensive campaign funding databases.
That was until last week when Democrat Francine Busby, a Democrat, announced she had surpassed $1 million in funding courtesy of more than 6,700 contributors while Eric Roach, a Republican, announced he had spent $750,000 of his own money to run.
Roach's self-contribution placed him third nationally this election cycle in self-funding while those added amounts vaulted the race into position as sixth most expensive House race in the nation, according to Center for Responsive Politics databases.
"At this point, an unusually high amount of money is being spent," said Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics. "But this is a special election and we would expect this race to be supplanted on the list by races elsewhere. However, if they continue to raise money and spend it at this pace, the race will be above average in overall spending."