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Ex-Rep. Darrell Issa announces campaign against onetime colleague Rep. Duncan Hunter, who awaits trial

Four Republicans pull out of the race and endorse Issa as Hunter awaits January trial

Former Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., announced Thursday he will run against former colleague Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., in 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., announced Thursday he will run against former colleague Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., in 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

It took less than nine months of retirement for former Rep. Darrell Issa to decide he wants to mount a congressional comeback.

The California Republican is hopping one district over to run against his former colleague, San Diego County GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, who faces a federal trial on corruption charges in January, the challenger announced at a news conference in California on Thursday.

“I will be the next congressman from the 50th Congressional district,” Issa said at the news conference Thursday. “I have the history, the skills, the seniority and the capability to hit the ground running, not just for this district, but for California.”

Issa was one of the wealthiest members of Congress when he decided last year not to run for reelection in the 49th District, which he represented for 18 years.

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Issa had been nominated by President Donald Trump to be director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. But the nomination languished in the Senate, and a confirmation hearing scheduled for last week was delayed indefinitely

In a letter to Trump this week, Issa told Trump he would not continue to pursue confirmation. He said he was “tremendously grateful” for the nomination and blamed the delay in his confirmation on “partisan obstructionism.”

“I am ready to move forward with an alternative opportunity to return to public service. I believe this opportunity will allow me to do even more to help you enact your agenda,” Issa wrote to the president.

Issa’s 49th District seat flipped to the Democrats in the 2018 elections, with Rep. Mike Levin defeating GOP candidate Diane Harkey  by 12 percentage points.

Hunter faces trial in January on federal corruption and campaign finance charges. The trial would come just weeks before the California primaries, in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, go on to compete in the general election.

Before Thursday, Issa had hinted for months that he intended to run for Hunter’s seat in the 50th District to prevent the Democrats from picking up another longtime GOP stronghold in Southern California.

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 anyone running in the 50th.

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

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race for California’s 50th District Leans Republican.

Issa received endorsements on Thursday from four Republicans who had previously launched campaigns against Hunter but are now exiting the race: El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, former Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, Former Temecula Mayor Matt Rahn, and retired Navy Seal Larry Wilske. 

Political radio host Carl DeMaio, a fifth Republican challenger to Hunter, on Wednesday criticized Issa for “[fleeing] his own district” in the 2018 midterms instead of fighting to help Republicans hold a vulnerable seat.

Darrell Issa epitomized what is wrong with establishment California Republican politicians,” said DeMaio campaign spokesman Dave McCulloch.

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