One of the most closely watched races in San Diego County is in the East County's 50th Congressional District, where a seat is left vacant after disgraced former Congressmember Duncan D. Hunter resigned in light of a corruption scandal.
Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar hoped he could swing the ruby red district blue but as the votes continued to be counted on Wednesday, it appeared that long-time Republican congressman Darrell Issa would again be heading back to Congress.
On Wednesday, Issa all but declared victory, though he indicated Campa-Najjar had not conceded.
"At this point, I consider it that the race is over," Issa said outside his campaign headquarters in Vista that would serve as a temporary congressional office if he wins. "It is statistically impossible for the outcome to be different. But having said that, he has to do that in his own time.”
Issa had predicted a "decisive victory" on Election Night but that didn't happen. When the polls closed, Campa-Najjar held a lead of just thousands of votes over Issa. But as more tallies were released throughout the night, the margin slimmed -- at one point to less than 100 votes.
But Issa's lead widened in the days following Election Night. By Saturday evening, he had 53.68% of the vote and just over 21,400 votes more than Campa-Najjar.
Here's where the race stands now:
Campa-Najjar was not losing hope Wednesday that the final votes to be tallied could swing the election.
"We’re still looking at the returns with a measure of hope and urge every last vote be counted," he said in a statement Wednesday that accused Issa of "buying his seat" and thanked his team and supporters.
The 50th District — which covers much of San Diego’s East County and extends north into Temecula — has sat vacant for nearly 10 months.
Campa-Najjar, a 31-year-old businessman and former Labor Department staffer, is aiming to flip the long-time red district. The Latino-Arab candidate was born in East County and has touted it throughout the race, telling voters he is a "son of the East County" and their neighbor.
He came closer than many thought to flipping the district against Hunter in 2016 and Issa said "this was the first contested primary I had and it was quite an awakening."
Issa added that even though a Democrat came closer than many thought to flipping the Republican stronghold, he would not change his stance on issues.
"No I don’t intend on being labeled as some sort of squish or a moderate or a rhino," Issa said. "I’ve been a conservative, my conservative voting record will continue. I will continue to be pro second amendment pro first amendment pro life and candidly pro the values of this district."
Campa-Najjar was hopeful on Election Day, before the votes started to be tallied, that he hoped a large voter turnout could give him a chance to serve them.
"It's about the future, not the past," Campa-Najjar told NBC 7. "I’m going to be a congressman for everyone. My message has been country over party since day one, people over politics. We’re going to fight to lower taxes for California families and small businesses.”
Campa-Najjar said the voters he has spoken to on the campaign trail want a “disrupter” to fill this seat, not a “career politician” like his opponent.
“They want change in whatever form it comes,” the candidate told NBC 7.
Issa, on the other hand, said this race is all about experience.
“This has been a race between experience and someone who doesn’t fit the historic 50th trying to say that he’s changed to fit it," Issa told NBC 7 on Election Day. "I’m a predictable conservative. I not only fit the district – I’ve represented most of it for a very long time. People know that I say what I believe and I will do what I say."
“We’re feeling great,” he said Tuesday afternoon, hours before the polls were set to close in San Diego County. “The voters have really responded; our message of experience that you just can’t get any other way has resonated."
Issa represented the North County's District 49 for decades before leaving ahead of the 2020 election at a promised Trump Administration position that stalled.
He said he’s grateful for the support he’s gotten on the campaign trail.
“One of the things that happens when you’re coming back into politics, is you find out who really believe in you," Issa said. "This has been a great 14 months of learning."
Issa spent Election Night at a watch party at a hotel in Mission Valley. Campa-Najjar spent the evening at home with family and friends, watching the results trickle in.
Although the race between the two candidates has been hotly contested, Campa-Najjar said he shares a sense of comradery with Issa. He said they regularly talk and text. Campa-Najjar said that he planned to lean on Issa for advice should he head to D.C.