‘Mini-Trump’ Issa in trouble in 49th District

Uh-Oh Issa and Trump hot dogs; pre-coronavirus, 2016. /File

In this upside-down year, Issa finds himself suddenly in danger of defeat, a prognosis worsened by his decision to embrace Donald J. Trump.

VISTA, CA. — For more than 15 years, Representative Darrell Issa has not so much as put out a yard sign. A Republican comfortably ensconced in his Southern California seat, he has blown by one challenger after another since being elected in 2000.

The days of his double-digit victories may be over. When the campaign season began, Issa was on nobody’s list of vulnerable incumbents. Often cited as the wealthiest member of Congress, he is said to be able to bankroll his own campaign. His district has not undergone major demographic changes. And for years, he had promised to be the most vigilant interrogator of the Obama administration from his perch on an oversight committee, which Republicans cheered.

“It’s a mystifyingly bad campaign that Issa’s run,” said David Wasserman, an editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “And he is in grave danger.”

Democrats, who cannot contain their glee at the prospect of his defeat, are trying to make the case that Issa is not alone. “If Darrell Issa, a long-term member who is well known in his district and outside his district, who is the richest member of Congress, is on the cusp of losing,” said Representative Xavier Becerra of California, a member of House Democratic leadership, “then it’s not just Darrell Issa who’s going down.”

Wealthier, white voters in the suburbs dominate Issa’s district, an idyllic stretch of mountains and coastline between Los Angeles and San Diego, including San Clemente, where a disgraced President Richard M. Nixon went to write his memoirs.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Majority PAC, a Democratic “super PAC,” have invested more than $4 million to defeat Issa and a Central Valley Republican congressman tied to Trump, Jeffrey Denham. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC, recently gave more than $1.6 million to Denham as part of a nationwide investment to shore up Republican candidates.

Issa, who endorsed Trump after previously backing Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, has signed on to the Republican nominee’s national security advisory board. When a 2005 recording surfaced in which Trump talked about sexually assaulting women, Issa’s campaign released a statement condemning the remarks as “wholly inappropriate, offensive and unfitting of anyone seeking to lead our nation,” but the congressman did not rescind his support.

But he has tried an even more surprising move: embracing President Obama. The former chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Issa so relished his position as the chief interrogator of the Obama administration during hearings on the Internal Revenue Service scandal and the attacks on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that he used a stick figure in a police officer’s cap as his Twitter avatar. Yet he recently distributed campaign mailers promoting a bill for which he was one of 40 co-sponsors that included a photograph of Obama signing it into law.

“That is the definition of chutzpah,” Obama said of Issa during a fund-raiser on Sunday in the San Diego enclave of La Jolla.

Issa also dallied on investing in his race, waiting until October to start running ads, Wasserman said.

Issa’s opponent, Doug Applegate, a retired Marine colonel who served in Iraq, has run ads with the help of significant financial support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Issa is fighting back, highlighting in part accusations made against Applegate by his former wife in the early 2000s. According to court records, first reported by Politico, she was granted two temporary restraining orders after saying Mr. Applegate had threatened her during a divorce and custody battle.

“You have to look at the first person who responded to those really baseless allegations: It was my ex-wife,” Applegate said in an interview. “She was offended at the attacks, said that she supported me and was going to be voting for me in November.”

For his part, Mr. Issa is spending money “in a targeted and data-driven way to ensure the best bang for the buck,” Calvin Moore, Issa’s spokesman, wrote in an email

Editor’s Note: This story by Emmarie Huetteman originally appeared in the New York Times and is re-printed by special permission. For more, visit NYT here.

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