Congressman Darrell Issa faces tough political fight for re-election

Video: Rep. Darrell Issa’s Post Service reform agendaIs Congressman Darrell Issa really in reelection trouble?

Not that long ago, the Vista Republican was on top of the political world.

Through his former perch atop the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa stood as the face of GOP opposition against President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Issa’s investigations into the fatal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the troubled roll-out of the federal Obamacare exchange, Lois Lerner and the IRS, and the ATF fiasco called “Operation Fast and Furious” all helped earn him the distinction of Conservative of the Year, as well as countless national media appearances.

And now, just two and a half years later, Issa is in one of the toughest political fights of his 15-year career, according to his hometown paper, having squeaked through the primary election earlier this month with just 51.5 percent of the vote.

Observers say the challenge is overstated. And Issa’s camp isn’t worried, noting that while the race was close, it still ended with Issa on top — a forecast of what’s to come.

“While the election night number was what it was, I think a longer look at the whole story shows that we withstood — rather than was walloped by — the registration surge, heavy Dem turnout and no competitive GOP race,” said Issa spokesman Jonathan Wilcox.

The threat

Issa has fallen in stature since he rotated out of his Oversight chairmanship. And the rise of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has led to a surge in voter registration to oppose him.

Many believe Trump’s unpopularity (70 percent of Americans see him unfavorably, according to a recent poll) will hurt GOP incumbents all over the country. And Issa endorsed the business and reality television tycoon a month before the primary.

“Darrell Issa is only in trouble if a Trump fiasco drags down the entire Republican ticket everywhere, the House flips, and a swarm of locusts descends,” said Thad Kousser, a professor of political science at UC San Diego. “If November is simply normal political circumstances or even a fairly bad year to be a Republican, he is still safe.”

His challenger

Issa’s Democratic challenger, Doug Applegate, a retired Marine Corps colonel, exceeded low expectations against Issa, who has the benefit of incumbency, party identification in a right-leaning district, a national profile and all the money — both through fundraising and his personal fortune — that he’ll ever need to retain the seat.

The district splits the San Diego and Los Angeles media markets, two of the most expensive in the country. Applegate will need a lot more than the almost $14,000 he has in his campaign account to build his name recognition and to offset whatever messaging Issa can produce with the $3.7 million he is sitting on. 

“Likely Republican”

The primary results were not lost on political handicappers. Sabato’s Crystal Ball out of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics downgraded the race from Safe Republican to Likely Republican. But Issa is still predicted to retain the seat despite the downgrade.

“Ultimately, Issa should be fine,” wrote Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “Remember, a ‘Likely’ rating means that one side is still clearly favored over the other.”

Democrats smell blood

The 49th Congressional district is a heavily military district that includes Camp Pendleton and much of north San Diego County and deep south Orange County.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district 40 percent to 31 percent. This time four years ago, Republicans were 43 percent of the registered voters in the district, compared to 29 percent for Democrats.

According to the right-leaning Newsmax, national Democrats see Issa as vulnerable. But it wasn’t that long ago when Issa was seen as weak following a 16-day partial government shutdown in 2013. He won the following re-election by 20 percentage points.


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