Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), hoping to win a recall election and replace Gray Davis (D) as governor of the Golden State, is backed by a group of influential GOP leaders in his San Diego-area Congressional district — who have their own reasons for rooting him on to the statehouse.
At least two prominent 49th district Republicans are already preparing to run for Congress if Issa moves on, and another leader of the recall movement could follow.
State Sen. Bill Morrow, the runner-up to Issa in the 2000 GOP contest, has created a Congressional exploratory committee and said he is almost certain to run if the seat becomes vacant. The committee is just beginning to raise money.
San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn (R) said he would also run in an open-seat primary and is convinced that he is the best-known of the prospective candidates.
Their open pursuit of the heavily Republican seat before the recall election has even been officially scheduled brought a mild rebuke from one of the recall organizers — who has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for Congress.
“That’s very premature,” said former California Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian (R), chairman of the Recall Gray Davis Committee. “There are a lot of people getting ahead of themselves and already running for Darrell Issa’s seat. That’s the wrong thing to be doing currently.”
Kaloogian, however, admitted that he too is looking at running for Issa’s seat in the event that the Congressman becomes governor — even though Kaloogian lives a short distance outside the 49th district, in Rep. Duke Cunningham’s (R) 50th district.
And Kaloogian conceded that he would attempt to use a successful recall to his advantage should Issa become governor.
“That helps, that scenario, that the damn thing worked,” he said of the recall. “I’d have just been off the fresh victory of getting the recall going.”
At this stage, however, Issa is a long way from the governor’s mansion. First, the recall must qualify for the statewide ballot, and any recall election could be several months away. Then, Issa would have to compete with many other people on the ballot; in a recent poll, he finished seventh in a field of 11 prospective candidates.
But Morrow is unapologetic about preparing for a race, noting that Issa has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for Senate in 2004 if the gubernatorial recall does not pan out.
“I’m not going to sit on my hands,” he said. “To the extent that he’s working behind the scenes, I’m going to as well.”
Issa and Morrow were the principal competitors in the 2000 open primary to replace retiring Rep. Frank Packard (R), the nine-term Appropriations subcommittee chairman who stunned the political world by announcing his departure just three months before the election.
The primary became nasty, and Morrow wound up suing Issa after one of his ads linked Morrow to a state Senator who had been convicted of extortion. Issa, a multimillionaire, outspent Morrow more than 5-to-1, and took 35 percent of the vote to Morrow’s 24 percent.
But the two buried the hatchet, and Issa escorted Morrow around Washington, D.C., two weeks ago and introduced him to members of the California delegation. Morrow said he hopes to use support from the GOP establishment as a cornerstone of any Congressional primary campaign.
“I’ve been making my name known,” he said. “I’m following the Issa model [of 2000] of waiting in the wings.”
But Horn, who has spent nine years on the five-member San Diego County Board of Supervisors, said he would have the upper hand in a primary because his district is almost identical to Issa’s. Both are based in the northern part of San Diego County, and include such communities as Oceanside, Vista and the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base.
“I think I have a pretty good handle on what the folks from that district want,” he said.
With the Davis recall very popular in San Diego County, Horn could not resist a swipe at Morrow and any other state legislator thinking about running for the House seat (GOP state Assemblyman Ray Haynes has also been mentioned as a possible candidate, though he is expected to defer to Morrow). Noting the state budget impasse in Sacramento, Horn said he did not believe that voters in the 49th district would embrace “folks who don’t come up with budgets.”
Horn said he is not fazed by the prospect of raising money for a Congressional race and said he collected about $600,000 for his last county election. Morrow spent about $300,000 on his 2000 race against Issa.
Ronald Nehring, chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party, said he could not predict how a primary to replace Issa would turn out.
“Right now, the Congressional scene is dominated in large part by national concerns — support for President Bush, support for the war on terrorism, and the like,” he said.
One thing is certain: If Issa abandons his House seat, his successor, representing a district that George W. Bush would have won by 19 points in 2000, is almost certain to be a Republican.