2 long-held Republican congressional seats face rash of challengers

SAN DIEGO – East County and North County voters will decide during Tuesday’s primary election which candidates will represent the 49th and 50th congressional districts, which have long been overseen by Republicans but are being targeted by Democrats.

Facing what would likely have been his toughest re-election campaign, Rep. Darrell Issa opted not to run again for his 49th District seat. A flood of 16 candidates has emerged to claim the district, which runs from La Jolla to Dana Point.

2018 Primary Election Guide

There are so many candidates that Democrats could possibly be shut out of what should otherwise be a competitive November general election, thanks to California’s primary system, which advances the top two vote-getters regardless of party.

Doug Applegate, a retired Marine colonel who nearly defeated Issa in 2016, likely has greatest name recognition of Democratic candidates. Applegate has campaigned on national security, education funding, environmental advocacy and expanding Medicare, but restraining orders issued in 2002 and 2004 during a divorce from his former wife could be a liability in the #MeToo era.

Other leading Democrats include environmental attorney and former Orange County Democratic Party official Mike Levin, who supports green energy; Paul Kerr, a wealthy real estate investor who advocates for single-payer health care; and 29-year-old Sara Jacobs, who conducted foreign affairs work during the Obama Administration. The granddaughter of Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, she has focused on alleviating what she calls inequality in the 49th District.

Leading all candidates is state Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey, a Republican, according to a recent San Diego Union-Tribune/10News poll. Harkey is endorsed by Issa as well as the San Diego County and Orange County Republican parties. She supports cutting taxes and business red tape.

Other Republican candidates include Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, a moderate who caught flak for supporting legislation that levies fees on polluters that emit greenhouse gases; San Juan Capistrano City Councilman Brian Maryott, who wants to overhaul immigration and social service programs, and San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, who has frequently slammed California’s so-called sanctuary laws and this month attended a hard-line immigration round table at the White House.

To the east, in the 50th District, Duncan D. Hunter is seeking to retain a seat he’s held since 2009 and that his father, Duncan D. Hunter, held long before that.

Hunter has campaigned on border security, military growth, lowering taxes and supporting business.

Democrats hope the 50th District is more vulnerable than in previous years due to an ongoing FBI investigation into alleged campaign finance violations by Hunter. A recent San Diego Union-Tribune/10News poll, however, indicates 43 percent of respondents still back the incumbent, who represents much of East County as well as Fallbrook, San Marcos, Valley Center and Escondido.

Democrats Ammar Campa-Najjar, a former Department of Labor spokesman; Patrick Malloy, a realtor; and former Navy SEAL Josh Butner, a Jamul-Dulzura Union School Board of Education member, hope to make it past the primary so they can gain ground on Hunter between now and the November general election.

Campa-Najjar has focused on improving health care access and reducing income inequality; Malloy has advocated for infrastructure renewal and water conservation; while Butner has campaigned on health care, Medicare, Social Security and education.

Hunter also faces challenges from Bill Wells, the El Cajon mayor who has championed tax decreases and mental health care improvements, as well as businessman Shamus Sayed, who has advocated for infrastructure investment and balanced budgets. Both candidates are Republicans.