In my district in 2004, the alacritous Kris Kobach (R) lost to the less eloquent incumbent Dennis Moore (D) in a district that is mostly Republican. Kobach, who outperformed Moore in multiple debates and looked good up until a couple of weeks in, fell to fate when Moore's campaign launched an ad associating Kobach with the KKK due to his admirably hard-line stance on immigration.
In any case, Brian Bilbray doesn't think illegal immigration is a still a third rail:
"There was one issue and only one issue that allowed me to be elected," Mr. Bilbray said. "It was not my experience, it was not my hard work, and God knows it wasn't my intellect. It was the fact the people in the 50th District wanted something done, they wanted a job and a message sent to Washington that now and here is the time to address illegal immigration."I suspect that a couple of decades from now, when San Diego county's Hispanic population has moved to over 50% Hispanic (from 30% today), we'll hear about Bilbray's salient pyhrric victory cost the GOP what had been a safehaven for the last half century.
Maybe pessimism is the wrong attitude. The Bush administration is politically toxic, and Congress' approval ratings are in the toilet. The chasm between political elites and the public on immigration creates the perfect populist's cause for those up for re-election. This November is going to be crucial.