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Issa on challenging fellow Republican Hunter: ‘He cannot win reelection’

California Republican represented adjacent district for 18 years, believes Hunter's legal troubles jeopardize GOP control of seat

Former Republican Rep. Darrell Issa has signaled he might come out of retirement to run in California’s 50th District, currently held by embattled GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Rep. Darrell Issa signaled over the weekend that he intends to run for Congress in Rep. Duncan Hunter’s district if he is not confirmed to a position in the Trump administration by winter.

Issa and Hunter are both Republican.

Issa, 65, represented San Diego County for 18 years before retiring at the end of his ninth term earlier this year. His 49th District seat flipped to the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections, with Rep. Mike Levin handing GOP candidate Diane Harkey a 12 percentage point loss.

With Hunter facing trial in January on federal corruption and campaign finance crimes just weeks before the California primaries, Issa has told the California Report that he intends to run for Hunter’s seat in the 50th District to prevent the Democrats from picking up another longtime GOP stronghold in Southern California.

“There’s nothing wrong with his voting,” Issa said of Hunter. “But he is injured in a way that, according to most polls I’ve seen — all polls I’ve seen — he cannot win reelection. And as a Republican, I don’t want to lose a seat that is clearly a seat that we need to have to get back in the majority,” he said.

Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who lost to Hunter by less than 4 percentage points in 2018, is running again and is expected to mount a significant challenge to whichever Republicans emerges.

Hunter’s seat was on the initial list of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targets in January.

Five other Republicans have already announced primary challenges to Hunter, including 2014 congressional candidate and political radio host Carl DeMaio.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race as Leans Republican.

Hunter spokesman Michael Harrison could not immediately be reached for comment, but he has previously told Roll Call that Issa is a family friend of the Hunters who “served his district well” before retiring.

“Congressman Hunter’s approach is he runs every race like it’s his first. Regardless of who his opponents are, regardless of the environment and circumstances, he runs his hardest,” Harrison said. “Whoever wants to run can do so.”

Issa gained national notoriety in the mid-2010s as the chairman of the House Oversight Committee who relentlessly investigated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response to the 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, and the alleged targeting of conservative groups by the IRS.

President Donald Trump nominated Issa to be director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency nearly a year ago, but his nomination has not seen the light of day in the Senate.

“Quite frankly, if I’m not confirmed by Nov. 3, then I expect I’ll be a candidate for the congressional seat,” Issa said.

Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, has been using his position to withhold consent from Chairman James Risch of Idaho to schedule committee votes on some nominees as leverage to get Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to fulfill certain outstanding information requests Menendez has made.

California’s 49th and 50th districts cover much of the same media market in San Diego County, with the 49th spanning the coast from Dana Point to La Jolla and the 50th lying inland.

Financing a congressional campaign should not be a problem for Issa.

He was the wealthiest member of the 115th Congress, according to a data analysis by CQ Roll Call.

Issa terminated his election committee account with the Federal Election Commission in February but could still revive that committee, which ended the 2018 cycle with more than $325,000 in cash on hand.

Hunter ended the second quarter of 2019 with just under $300,000 cash on hand.

Rachel Oswald contributed to this report.

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