Four primary candidates have risen to the forefront of the race to represent California’s 50th District.
And each one on their own has a compelling story even without the prologue of a congressional scandal leading to Representative Duncan Hunter pleading guilty in federal court to misusing campaign funds.
“There have been some challenges the last couple of years,” said former Congressman Darrell Issa in an interview with NBC 7 about the 50th’s recent representation history.
Here are four primary candidates in no specific order:
For Republican Issa, 66, this campaign was born out of a changing district, a stalled appointment and encouragement from President Trump, he says.
“The choice was sort of made for me,” the former representative explained.
California’s coastal 49th congressional District—which Issa represented for over 15 years—drifted considerably blue during his tenure. In 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the district by nearly ten points.
Issa chose not to run for reelection in 2018, hoping for a position in the Trump administration running the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. But his nomination stalled, leading him back to San Diego.
“I think [President Trump and I] made the decision I could do a lot more by winning this seat helping him get a Republican majority back in Washington, but also supporting this administration’s re-election something I believe very strongly in,” Issa told NBC 7.
Issa is relying on his years of experience as a legislator to convince voters, and brushing off concerns he doesn’t live in the district.
“If your job is to represent them then you make sure you do,” he said.
For Republican Carl DeMaio, 45, his draw to the race stems from years of battling Democrats and Democratic initiatives statewide.
“I think Californians are fed up and frustrated with the fact that we have one party control in the state, and the democrats are imposing socialism, there’s no other term for it,” DeMaio told NBC 7 in an interview at his Escondido campaign office.
DeMaio—a former San Diego City Councilmember—last ran for congress in 2014 going up against incumbent Democratic Congressman Scott Peters, but ultimately lost in the 52nd District.
DeMaio is running, trumpeting his allegiance to President Trump as well.
“I believe that there are forgotten Californians out there who are just waiting for someone to lead the fight to take back the state,” he said, as campaign volunteers stuffed literature in envelopes to mail out.
“Nearly half the district had faith in me to be their Congressman [in 2018], and that’s too many people to walk away from,” said the leading Democrat in the race, Ammar Campa-Najjar, 30.
Campa-Najjar, a former Obama Administration official first ran for the 50th in 2018, challenging Congressman Hunter who was facing federal indictment at the time.
After a particularly ugly race that gained national attention, Campa-Najjar lost to Hunter by less than 10,000 votes—an incredibly close race in a normally safely Republican seat.
Now, Campa-Najjar hopes to bring a more moderate Democratic voice to the district.
“I’m proud of the fact that our campaign will go down in history as the best and last campaign to take on the Hunter dynasty,” he said.
State Senator Brian Jones
By representing California’s 38th State Senate District, Republican State Senator Brian Jones is the only candidate in the 50th race who currently represents constituents that he hopes to serve on the federal level.
“Both Carl and Issa don’t live in the district, but they’ve self appointed themselves to the be savior of the district,” remarked Jones in an interview with NBC 7.
Jones has promised to be a “reliable vote” for President Trump’s agenda.
The former California Assemblyman from Santee noted he’s never lost to a Democrat from this area.
The top two vote-getters in the March 3 primary, regardless of party, will move on to a run-off in November’s general election.