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Rating change: With Hunter gone, California race shifts to Solid Republican

Democrat took 48 percent against wounded incumbent in 2018

Former Rep. Darrell Issa is seeking a House comeback bid from the district recently vacated by his fellow California Republican Duncan Hunter. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Corrected 2:02 p.m. | California Republican Duncan Hunter finally left the House and took any Democratic chances of winning the 50th District with him.

Hunter won reelection in 2018 by 3 points in a Southern California seat that Republicans shouldn’t have to worry about defending, considering President Donald Trump carried it by 15 points in 2016. Hunter was under indictment at the time, which shows the strength any GOP candidate should have in the district.

Hunter subsequently pleaded guilty on Dec. 3 to misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds, but waited until mid-January to officially resign — extending the time he was eligible for congressional pay and benefits. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in March.

A recent poll, conducted Jan. 9-12 by SurveyUSA, confirms the fundamental partisanship of the district. Under California law, all candidates, regardless of party, run in the same primary with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election. Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar was the leading candidate in the SurveyUSA poll with 26 percent and another Democrat, Marisa Calderon, the executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, was in fifth with 3 percent. Their combined 29 percent was a far cry from the 48 percent Campa-Najjar received in the 2018 general election against Hunter and even down a few points from the 31 percent he received in an October survey.

Right now, it looks like a race for second in the March 3 primary is between former Rep. Darrell Issa (21 percent) and former San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio (20 percent). GOP state Sen. Brian Jones was in third place with 12 percent in the most recent poll. Issa represented the 49th District, located northwest of the 50th, for nine terms and did not seek reelection in 2018. In 2014, DeMaio ran unsuccessfully in the 52nd District, to the southwest of the seat he now seeks. 

The race is just getting started at this stage as Issa, the former wealthiest member of Congress, faces off against DeMaio, who is proving to be one of the best GOP fundraisers on the House side.

But the most important factor from a handicapping perspective is that Hunter will not be the GOP nominee. So the Inside Elections rating of the race in California’s 50th from is changing from Leans Republican to Solid Republican.

Hunter’s seat will remain vacant until next January when the winner of November’s general election takes office. With two well-funded candidates, it’s possible for two Republicans to make it to November. But Democratic turnout is likely to be high on March 3 because of the presidential primary, and should ensure Campa-Najjar finishes in the top two.

With California’s 50th dropping off the list of competitive races, the total number of vulnerable Republican seats decreases from 32 to 31. But the House battlefield is still relatively even with 38 vulnerable Democratic seats. That makes it challenging for Republicans to net the 18 seats necessary to win the majority.

This story has been corrected to reflect that there won’t be a special election this year for California’s 50th District. 

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