Former Marine giving high-profile CA congressman a close race

Video: Fast and Furious with Rep. Darrell IssaSpeaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, isn’t the only high-profile House Republican in an unexpectedly difficult re-election fight.

A case can be made that former House government oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa, the eight-term Vista Republican and wealthy tech tycoon, may even be an underdog to former Marine Col. Doug Applegate, his Democratic opponent, based on June primary results and the likelihood of a stronger Democratic turnout in November.

Issa, 62, represents the state’s 49th Congressional District. It spans from Del Mar to Dana Point, with the largest chunk of voters in Oceanside and Carlsbad, and is perceived as Republican territory. In 2014, Issa coasted to re-election with 60 percent of the vote against an unknown, poorly funded Democrat.

But in the June 8 primary, Issa won only 51 percent of the vote. Former Marine Col. Doug Applegate won 45 percent, with an independent candidate running as a marijuana advocate pulling the remaining votes. In the San Diego County vote — about 65 percent of the district — Issa only won 49 percent to 48 percent.

Issa downplayed the result, saying turnout was unusually strong in Democratic precincts for a primary. 

Quirky Republicans on San Diego coast

However, Issa is vulnerable on other grounds as well. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, is a good fit for his east San Diego County district with his social and religious conservatism. But such GOP candidates don’t play well on the wealthy coast, where social conservatism isn’t as important to many Republican voters as being simultaneously pro-business and good on the environment. Moderate Republicans such as San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and longtime county Supervisor Ron Roberts fit this mold.  

This unorthodoxy may be why Issa’s use of the government oversight committee to go after the Obama administration on many issues may have provided red meat for Republican candidates across the nation, but didn’t appear to resonate as well in the 49th district. It has seen a decrease of 10,000 registered GOPers since 2012.

Meanwhile, in Applegate, local Democrats have a candidate who hits a San Diego County sweet spot. The county has more active and retired military residents than any other county in the U.S. and his background as both a military lawyer and command officer is sure to play well. Camp Pendleton, the giant Marines base, is the largest employer in the 49th district.

The contrast with Applegate’s history and Issa’s tumultuous, brief stint in the Army is ready-made for attack ads. Among other issues, he was accused of car theft by a fellow soldier.

Applegate, 62, has  lived in north San Diego County since 1981.

Despite his pluses, some GOP strategists downplay Applegate’s chances. Nearly 40 percent of the district’s registered voters are Republican, with 31 percent Democrats and 24 percent decline-to-state. Only 13 percent of district voters are Latinos, the group most likely to be upset with Issa’s increasingly enthusiastic support for Trump.

Issa’s net worth is the highest in Congress — a minimum of $299 million, according to official documents. He will not be outspent by Applegate.

But strange things have happened in presidential elections in San Diego County local races. In 2012, President Obama’s coattails lifted Rep. Bob Filner to victory in the San Diego mayor’s race despite ample evidence that Filner was a loose cannon with an anger problem and a vengeful streak. Filner resigned in 2014 after being accused by more than 20 women of improper advances and of allegedly trading administrative approvals for favors from developers.

But Applegate doesn’t have such baggage, and his emergence has such Issa critics as Daily Kos overjoyed.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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