Payback: Dems see chance to boot Issa
© Francis Riviera

Democrats think they have a realistic shot in November of taking down Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who made life miserable for the Obama administration after Republicans took back the House in 2010.

They’d love to send the former House Oversight Committee chairman packing and are looking to their candidate, retired Marine Col. Doug Applegate, to make it happen.

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The demographics of Issa's affluent suburban district suggest it won’t be favorable territory for GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE, potentially giving Applegate a chance. 

Issa's San Diego-area district is more diverse than ever, with a larger number of Hispanics and younger voters — precisely the groups that are turning away from Trump, according to surveys.

Nonpartisan analysts say Issa is still slightly favored to win, given his 15-year incumbency. Republicans also have an 8-point edge over Democrats in voter registration in the district.

But if Trump’s candidacy flames out on Election Day, he could take scores of congressional Republicans down with him. The best-case scenario for Democrats would be if GOP voters disillusioned with Trump decide not to show up on Election Day and independent voters choose their candidates. 

“This is the kind of domino that has to fall for the Democrats to take back the House,” said Thad Kousser, a political scientist at the University of California-San Diego. 

Issa’s race wasn’t considered competitive just a few months ago. Applegate’s surprisingly strong finish in the June jungle primary, netting 45 percent compared to Issa’s 51 percent, drew Democrats’ attention. California’s jungle primary system advances the top two primary finishers to the general election, regardless of party. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is reserving $2.1 million worth of airtime to help Applegate.  

Applegate and the DCCC released new ads this week seizing on the bombshell tape of Trump bragging about using his celebrity to grope and kiss women without consent.

One of the 30-second ads repeats the audio of Trump talking about how he could “grab [women] by the p---y” three times, juxtaposed with images of Issa shaking hands and laughing with him. 

Both ads highlight that Issa was appointed to Trump’s national security council on Friday, right before the tape of Trump’s vulgar comments became public.  

“Donald Trump’s toxic candidacy is poisoning every Republican down the ballot and that’s especially true for one of his chief supporters and ‘national security advisors’ Congressman Darrell Issa. But this has been a long time coming. For 15 years, Issa demonstrated time and again that he always puts his political party before his country and the people he is supposed to serve,” DCCC spokeswoman Barb Solish said. 

Issa was a chief antagonist of the Obama administration until he was term-limited out as Oversight Committee chairman after the 2014 elections.

He led the push for both of the House’s most recent votes to hold administration officials in contempt of Congress: former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderBiden under pressure to pick new breed of federal prosecutors Obama says Senate will vote again on voting rights Obama: Voting rights bill must pass before next election MORE in 2012 and ex-IRS official Lois Lerner in 2014. 

Issa also infuriated Democrats when he unilaterally adjourned a 2014 hearing about the IRS investigation and cut off Rep. Elijah Cummings’s (D-Md.) microphone, in a break from typical decorum given to the committee’s minority members.

Before his full-on embrace of Trump, Issa supported Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP lawmakers request Cuba meeting with Biden Bipartisan congressional commission urges IOC to postpone, relocate Beijing Games Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks MORE (R-Fla.) in the GOP presidential primary. In February, Issa warned on CNN that Trump “could be a national Todd Akin,” referring to a failed Republican Senate candidate in 2012 who claimed victims of “legitimate rape” rarely got pregnant. 

Since then, Issa has changed his tune, comparing Trump to former President Ronald Reagan at a San Diego rally in May.

Internal polling conducted before The Washington Post published the tape last Friday indicated that Issa is facing his toughest reelection yet.

The DCCC released a poll last week showing Applegate 4 points ahead of Issa, 46 to 42 percent, while Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonA path to climate, economic and environmental justice is finally on the horizon Polling misfired in 2020 — and that's a lesson for journalists and pundits Biden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe MORE led Trump by 14 points. Clinton’s lead would be a reversal from 2012, when Mitt Romney won the district by 6 points. 

Issa’s campaign, meanwhile, unveiled an internal poll on Tuesday finding the incumbent ahead of Applegate by 9 points. The lead in that survey, which was taken before the tape’s release and the second presidential debate over the weekend, was nonetheless smaller than a September internal poll that had Issa winning by 14 points.

The Issa campaign notably didn’t include results of the presidential race in the district. However, Issa acknowledged during an interview with a Fox affiliate in San Diego this week that “a majority of my district will probably go for Hillary Clinton.”

Making GOP turnout harder for an incumbent like Issa is that California won’t be competitive for Republicans at a national level. Trump stands virtually no chance of winning the state, while the Senate race is between two Democrats thanks to the jungle primary system. 

“What do you turn out for if you’re a Republican in California?” Kousser said. At the same time, he noted, “Democrats may hate him, but Republicans in this district have loved him. They’ve voted for him over and over again for more than a decade.”

Issa’s campaign is making the case Applegate has his own problems with female voters. His campaign released an ad, titled “Dangerous,” citing court records showing that Applegate was ordered to stay 100 yards away from his ex-wife amid accusations of stalking. Applegate has said the divorce has been resolved.  

"Democrats can keep wasting good money on a poor candidate like Doug Applegate, but no amount of outsider money is going to be enough to prop up someone with the record of abusive, bullying and disrespectful behavior towards women that Doug Applegate has," Issa campaign spokesman Calvin Moore said. 

When asked about Trump’s comments, Issa condemned them without rescinding his endorsement. 

“That kind of behavior has no place in political life,” he told the San Diego Fox affiliate. “I’m really sorry that he ever said it and I certainly would hope that he has learned from this.”