Issa launches exploratory committee to challenge GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter

Issa launches exploratory committee to challenge GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter

Former Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaDuncan Hunter to plead guilty to campaign finance violations Why the GOP march of mad hatters poses a threat to our Democracy Elijah Cummings, native son of Baltimore, gets emotional send-off from Democratic luminaries MORE (R-Calif.) has taken his first formal step toward a return to Congress.

The former House Oversight and Reform Committee chairman has created an exploratory committee to run for the San Diego–area seat now held by his GOP colleague, Rep. Duncan HunterDuncan Duane HunterDuncan Hunter announces plan to resign The Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached House Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea MORE, who is fighting federal corruption charges.

Issa represented a neighboring congressional district for 18 years before retiring in January.

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“I have formally launched an exploratory committee for the 50th Congressional District in California,” Issa wrote on his campaign website. “I have received such a tremendous outpouring of encouragement from supporters inside the district, and around the state and across the Nation. I’m truly grateful for the many encouraging phone calls, messages and letters that I have received.”

Issa, 65, has been discussing the possibility of running for Hunter’s seat since at least January 2018, when he announced he would not be running for reelection in California's 49th District as that race grew more and more competitive. Democrat Mike Levin ultimately won that seat, which hugs the coast and includes parts of San Diego and Orange counties.

Issa mentioned the idea of running in the 50th District to GOP colleagues on the House floor, The Hill reported. But Issa ultimately didn’t run in 2018, and Hunter won reelection amid his legal woes.

The idea, however, picked up steam earlier this year as Issa’s nomination by President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades MORE to lead the U.S. Trade and Development Agency stalled in the Senate and Hunter’s legal problems worsened.

Hunter and his wife were indicted in August 2018 for allegedly misspending hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds and falsifying records. His wife, Margaret, pleaded guilty to one count of misusing funds, but the congressman is fighting the charges and said he would not resign. His trial is set to begin early next year.

Several GOP colleagues told The Hill this summer that they hoped Issa would not run again.

But other lawmakers said Issa, who founded the Viper car alarm system and had been the wealthiest member of Congress, would be a tough challenger to Hunter.

“Can’t imagine he’s not formidable with his bank account alone,” one lawmaker said.

In California, the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of political party. Others who have launched challenges against Hunter include Republican Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman who hosts a radio program, and Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who narrowly lost to Hunter last fall.

Olivia Beavers contributed.