updated 4/12/2006 3:02:50 AM ET 2006-04-12T07:02:50

A Democratic school board member won the most votes in a solidly GOP district but couldn’t avoid a runoff in a special election to fill the seat of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, now in prison for bribery.

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Democrat Francine Busby, who lost badly to Cunningham in 2004, had 45,953 votes, or 43 percent, with 67 percent of precincts reporting. But because she couldn’t get 50 percent of the vote in the 18-candidate field, the district on the Southern California coast will return to the polls June 6 for a runoff.

“When we go on to June, people know that this district today voted for change in Washington,” Busby told supporters late Tuesday. “We sent a message that we will no longer accept business as usual.”

Who Busby will face was uncertain. The two GOP front-runners were locked in a close race. Lobbyist and former Rep. Brian Bilbray led with 16,268 votes, or 15 percent, while Eric Roach, a political newcomer who spent $1.8 million on his own campaign, had 15,197 votes, or 14 percent.

The winner in the June runoff will serve out the remaining eight months of Cunningham’s term, and will almost certainly try to hold on to the seat come November.

Cunningham represented the House district from 1993 until he resigned in disgrace late last year. In March, the former Vietnam War fighter ace was sentenced to more than eight years in federal prison for taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors.

Republicans outnumber Democrats 3-to-2 in the wealthy district.

Turnout appeared light at the polls. Volunteers at a polling place in San Diego’s Del Mar Heights neighborhood reported only 16 people had voted by lunchtime, and voters were scarce at a sampling of polling places.

John Towers, a 51-year-old Republican who voted for Roach, said he felt betrayed not only by Cunningham, but by the policies of the Bush administration.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of Republicans are so disgusted they just stay home,” said the college math instructor from Cardiff.

Radnofsky defeats Kelly in Texas
Also Tuesday, political newcomer Barbara Ann Radnofsky defeated perennial candidate Gene Kelly for the Democrats’ U.S. Senate nomination in the most high-profile of Texas runoff races.

Radnofsky, a Houston attorney, had 123,745 votes, or 60 percent, compared with Kelly’s 83,340, or 40 percent, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, according to unofficial returns. Radnofsky will now face Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in November in what will be a long-shot attempt to unseat the entrenched incumbent.

“Just as aging prom queens need to get out of the way and move over for the new crop, the new blood, I think it is time for her to move on,” Radnofsky said.

Hutchison issued a brief statement Tuesday night, saying if re-elected she “will continue to be a senator for all Texans.”

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