Perhaps the most high profile local race in San Diego this year is once again the battle for the 50th Congressional District.
After Congressman Duncan D. Hunter resigned amid scandal in January and a grueling primary race followed in March, all eyes are now on former Congressman and Republican Darrell Issa and Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar.
Issa hopes to return to Washington through a new seat, and Campa-Najjar once again hopes for a blue upset in a ruby-red district.
The 50th Congressional District—which is massive covering much of San Diego’s East County and extending north into Temecula—has sat vacant for nearly 10 months.
“I have the experience, I have seniority, and I have a passion to serve,” Issa told NBC 7 when asked why voters should choose him.
Issa, 66, served as a congressman in Southern California for nearly two decades until 2019, when he declined to run for his 49th District seat again.
The 49th, which covers the northern coast of San Diego County and part of Orange County, had been drifting Democratic for several years and Issa decided to leave to pursue a position in the Trump administration.
But when his nomination stalled, he returned to run in the 50th District.
“This is something I’m passionate about, it’s something I know how to do, and of course, the 50th Congressional District is more than one-third of the district I served for 12 years,” said Issa.
“I am the candidate from the 50th District,” Campa-Najjar emphasized in an interview with NBC 7.
Campa-Najjar, 31, worked at the Department of Labor during the Obama Administration and narrowly lost his bid for the 50th to Congressman Hunter in 2018.
Born in East County, the candidate of Latino and Arab heritage is running as the region’s native son.
“I didn’t move districts to try to run here, I didn’t apply for a job in the administration and got booted and decided to do this,” said Campa-Najjar. “I’ve been committed to this district from day one."
But the challenge for Campa-Najjar is the same as it was in 2018: the Republicans have the advantage.
If you look at voter registration in the 50th over the past four years, Democrats have boosted their numbers, but Republicans are still the dominant party.
And Campa-Najjar says he needs to win over independents and some Republicans to make this race competitive.
“For the past four years, I’ve been telling my home, the people in my district, to not just vote the party, vote the person,” explained the Democrat.
In response, Issa is working to paint Campa-Najjar as too liberal for the seat, releasing an attack ad featuring Campa-Najjar alongside images of progressive Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“My opponent now wants to be considered a conservative, when he was clearly progressive in the last race,” argued Issa. “So the swing voters have to decide, is he the progressive that came within three points [of beating Rep. Hunter]? Or is he in fact somehow a Ronald Reagan Democrat?”
Despite the GOP’s advantage in the long-time conservative district, public polls and political observers such as the non-partisan Cook Political Report say this race is tightening.
So the question is will 50th voters want Issa, an Obama Administration antagonist, endorsed by President Trump, who promises experienced representation?
Or will voters want a newer face, the Obama Administration Alum Campa-Najjar, endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden, who promises loyalty to his home district?
Either way, after nearly 10 months of having no representation in Washington, DC, the 50th District is one month away from finally electing a voice at the federal level.