Sept. 3, 2019 — Ex-California US Rep. Darrell Issa, who represented the state’s 49th CD for 18 years, just filed a new congressional exploratory committee with the Federal Election Commission. But he is not looking to run in his former seat. Rather, the exploratory committee is organized to survey his chances of winning the adjacent 50th CD, the district that indicted Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Alpine) currently represents.
This congressional district’s political soap opera continues to unfold. Hunter is facing a trial after the first of next year to defend himself against campaign finance charges, certain ones for which his estranged wife and former campaign manager have already negotiated a plea agreement with the government. And, with the early March 3 state primary scheduled concurrently with the presidential Super Tuesday vote, candidates are already announcing their intentions.
Anticipating that the court case will go against the congressman, five Republicans have announced their candidacies. And, with the trial now postponed until after the first of the year (it was originally scheduled for mid-September) there is a strong chance that Rep. Hunter will file for re-election before the state’s Dec. 6 candidate filing deadline. Should Issa decide to enter the race, then at least seven Republicans will be competing.
So many are coming forward because the 50th is one of the safest Republican seats in California, a state that now has a congressional delegation of 46 Democrats and just seven Republicans. However, quite possibly, and largely due to the state’s jungle primary law, the seat could fall into Democratic hands under a very realistic scenario.
Under California law, similar to the system in Louisiana and Washington, all candidates appear on the primary ballot regardless of political party affiliation. In the California process, the top two finishers in the first election, which is in reality a qualifying election as opposed to a partisan primary, advance to the general election.
Because there will be seven Republicans or more on the ballot and, at this point, just one Democrat — 2018 nominee Ammar Campa-Najjar, who posted 48.3 percent of the vote against Hunter — Campa-Najjar’s chances of advancing to the general election are quite favorable.
Campa-Najjar coalescing the Democratic vote in support of his candidacy should be relatively easy particularly since turnout will be high because of the presidential nomination election. This alone could provide him enough votes to qualify for the general because the Republicans will be split among so many contenders. If Campa-Najjar wins one of the two general election slots, that would mean all of the Republican candidates would be fighting over the one remaining position.
In addition to Hunter and Issa, the announced Republican candidates to date are radio talk show host and former San Diego City councilman, mayoral and congressional candidate (52nd District), Carl DeMaio, El Cajon Mayor and former congressional candidate (50th District) Bill Wells, former Escondido mayor Sam Abed, Temecula city councilman and former mayor Matt Rahn, and retired Navy SEAL and ex-congressional candidate (53rd District) Larry Wilske. Two Independents have also announced their candidacies.
Considering Rep. Hunter has won the district six times and his father, Duncan L. Hunter, served the region in the House for 28 years, the congressman could have a hard core base that might be able to advance him above the other Republicans and into the qualifying slot despite his legal trouble.
The Republican Party would then have a major problem if the trial occurs before the general election and goes badly for the congressman. If he is forced off the ballot, the Party would have no legal way of replacing him because the jungle primary is not partisan. There are no party nominees under this system, hence the GOP would not be entitled to insert another candidate.
Therefore, the evolving situation suggests that this is yet another ostensibly safe Republican district that has the potential of going Democratic.
The 50th CD is almost fully contained within the rural portion of San Diego County. Approximately 12 percent of the voters reside in Riverside County. The major population centers are the San Diego County communities of Escondido, part of El Cajon, Ramona, Valley Center, Alpine, and Julian, and the Riverside County city of Temecula. President Trump carried the district with a 55-40 percent margin. Mitt Romney scored a 60-38 percent victory here over President Obama, and John McCain’s spread was 58-39 percent over then-Sen. Barack Obama.