Jan. 12, 2018 — California Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Vista) latest re-election, a 1,621-vote victory over retired Marine Corps Colonel Doug Applegate (D) in CA-49, proved to be the closest US House result in the nation during 2016, but there will not be a re-match this year.
Rep. Issa announced Wednesday that he will not seek re-election to a 10th term, becoming the 48th House member to take this action in the current election cycle. With Arizona Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) reportedly primed to declare her Senate candidacy today, the number will quickly grow to 49. Issa’s action directly follows that of fellow California Rep. Ed Royce (R-Yorba Linda/ Fullerton), who announced on Monday that he won’t run for a 14th term.
Both men faced difficult re-election battles, as do five other California Republicans that Democrats are targeting. Because President Trump fared so poorly in California, the Democratic strategists believe the same pattern will carry over into the midterm cycle. But, such a result remains to be seen.
Though Republicans are clearly in worse position without Rep. Royce running again, that might not be the case concerning Issa’s. With his negatives growing and a close call in the previous election, the party might actually fare better with a fresh face, particularly when the Democrats do not have a clear alternative. Though Applegate is running again, he is facing a stiff challenge from at least two other Democrats, wealthy attorney Mike Levin, and former US State Department and United Nations official Sara Jacobs. Real estate investor Paul Kerr rounds out the current Democratic field.
Before yesterday, the jungle primary battle would have been for second place among these three Democratic contenders, but now we can expect that additional Republicans and Democrats will enter the open seat race.
The 49th District, two-thirds of which occupies the western and coastal part of San Diego County with the other third crossing the border into Orange County, has traditionally been a Republican seat. It switched to Hillary Clinton in 2016, however, preferring her to President Trump by a 51-43 percent margin. By contrast, Mitt Romney carried the 49th four years earlier, 52-46 percent. While President Obama would have eked out a 49-48 percent margin over John McCain under the current district boundaries, he lost 53-45 percent under the previous District 49 lines.
CA-49 is a wealthy southern California district, beginning at the La Jolla boundary in San Diego County, and then moving up the coast and inland to include the city of Del Mar and the Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach communities before adding the cities of Encinitas, Vista, Carlsbad and Oceanside. The district then stretches into Orange County to annex the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base before encompassing the San Clemente and Dana Point communities. In his three elections within this district configuration, Issa had scored 60.2 and 58.2 percent victories in 2014 and 2012, respectively, before scratching out a 50.3 percent win in his last congressional campaign.
The Republicans still maintain a party registration advantage here, 38-31 percent over the Democrats, with 26 percent not identifying a political party preference. Looking at the state legislative districts that coincide with the 49th CD boundaries, the two legislators who represent largely the same territory are both Republicans, state Sen. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) and Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside). While Sen. Anderson was not on the ballot in 2016, Chavez was re-elected with 59 percent of the vote in a district that actually sent two Republicans to the general election.
Reports indicate that Assemblyman Chavez, who entered the 2014 Senate race only to drop out a short time later, will run for the open congressional seat. Another potential contender is Board of Equalization member and former Orange County state legislator Diane Harkey.
We can count on this district race remaining highly competitive for the coming election regardless of who may enter the campaign prior to the March 9 candidate filing deadline.