EL CAJON, Calif. — Former Rep. Darrell Issa, 65, announced Thursday he was joining the race to replace embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter in the state’s 50th Congressional District.
He was joined in a morning news conference by El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, former Escondido Mayor Sam Abed and former U.S. Navy SEAL Larry Wilske, who had been running for the seat but announced their support for Issa’s campaign.
The race also includes former San Diego City Councilman and conservative radio host Carl DeMaio, who held a news conference shortly after the Issa announcement, with some supporters holding signs reading “Darrell ran from us” and “Issa left me behind.”
“Darrell Issa is a quitter,” DeMaio said. “He quit his own congressional seat at a time when his party needed him to fight.”
Watch his news conference below:
Sen. Brian Jones, R-Santee, also launched a candidacy for the seat Wednesday.
Jones said he entered the race to “provide a trusted, conservative voice” for the East County district, which is currently represented by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine. Prior to serving as a state senator, Jones served in the Assembly and as a member of the Santee City Council.
“In Santee, we proved that conservative government policies work,” Jones said. “We created vibrant residential, commercial and retail development by reducing regulations and keeping taxes low, and funded the recreational and public safety services the public deserves by contracting out services.”
Issa declined a re-election run in the 49th District in 2018 after winning his 2016 bid by less than one percentage point. Last September, President Donald Trump nominated him to be the director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, but his Senate confirmation process has remained stalled since then.
Watch his announcement below:
Hunter was indicted in August 2018, along with his wife, on five dozen criminal charges, including conspiracy, wire fraud and record falsification, for allegedly misusing campaign funds. Margaret Hunter has since pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is cooperating with prosecutors. Her husband maintains his innocence.
Hunter won a sixth term last November, defeating Democratic candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar with 51.7% of the vote. The path to a seventh term appears more fraught for Hunter, whose trial is slated to begin next year in federal court.
With rumors of a possible resignation swirling, Republican politicians have swarmed to run for the seat in the event Hunter foregoes a run, is too politically damaged or cannot legally run in 2020. Campa-Najjar, meanwhile, never really stopped running for the seat and is likely the Democrats’ best hope of flipping it.
Jones argued that while he’s a conservative at heart and would be “a reliable vote for the president’s agenda,” he doesn’t intend to head to Washington, D.C., as a bomb thrower or a firebrand.
“While I’ve never run from a fight, nor compromised on core principles, I’ve demonstrated the ability to do the harder work of finding agreement in order to get things done,” he said. “I sponsored 23 bills that were passed by the Democratic legislature and signed into law.”
The state primary is scheduled for March 3.