In the 1980s, California's 44th Congressional District was one of four that divided San Diego. The district had been held for eight years by DemocratJim Bates and was considered the most Democratic district in the San Diego area. However, Bates became bogged down in a scandal involving charges of sexual harassment. Randy "Duke" Cunningham won the Republican nomination and hammered Bates about the scandal. Cunningham won by just a point, meaning that the San Diego area was represented entirely by Republicans for only the second time since the city was split into three districts after the 1960 U.S. Census. Upon his victory, Cunningham changed his official residence from his Del Mar home to a condominium in the Mission Valley neighborhood in San Diego, as he was required to reside in the district that he represented in Congress.
In the 1980s, California's 41st congressional district was another of four that divided San Diego. The northern San Diego County district had been held for 12 years by RepublicanBill Lowery and was considered the most Republican district in the San Diego area. Most of the district became the California's 51st congressional district after the 1990 U.S. Census. In 1992, Cunningham campaigned against Lowery in Lowery's district in the Republican primary. The new 51st District was much more conservative than Cunningham's more urban, old 41st District farther south. Lowery, who was tainted by the House check kiting scandal, lost the primary to Cunningham, who billed himself as honest, with his campaign theme of "A Congressman We Can Be Proud Of." Cunningham changed his official residence back to his Del Mar home in the old 41st/new 51st District after winning.
Representative Cunningham resigned on November 28, 2005, as a result of a bribery scandal. An open special election was held on April 11, 2006. The top vote getter was Democrat Francine Busby, who won 44% of the vote. The second place finisher was Republican Brian Bilbray, who won 15% of the vote. Paul King was the top Libertarian party vote getter, with 0.6% of the vote. Since no candidate received a simple majority, the top vote-getters in each party competed in a runoff or special general election on June 6, 2006 (the same day as the statewide California primary). Bilbray was sworn in on June 13, based on unofficial counts, two weeks before the election was certified. As a consequence of this action, a court challenge to the election results filed by voters was denied on jurisdictional grounds. This decision is being appealed.
On November 29, 2005, Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report declared on his show that the 50th Congressional District was "dead" to him after its insufficient support for his "friend" Duke Cunningham. Colbert placed the district on the show's ever-changing "Dead to Me" board, saying that he now considered the number of congressional districts in the United States to be 434. The number became 433 when he retired the 22nd District of Texas and sent it up to the rafters. However, on June 8, 2006, the eve of Tom DeLay's leaving Congress, Colbert returned the district to the board with a satirical "tribute" to DeLay, followed by a fake interview segment made from spliced-together clips of three interviews DeLay had done in the past. Colbert put the district back into retirement at the end of the segment. On March 1, 2006, he "downgraded" the 50th District's status from "dead to me" to "never existed to me."