SAN DIEGO (CN) – Former longtime GOP congressman Darrell Issa is tossing his hat in the ring for the fight to unseat embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter in District 50, one of California’s last Republican strongholds.
Issa has scheduled a news conference for Thursday morning in El Cajon, east of San Diego, where he’ll be flanked by several San Diego politicians as well as Hunter opponents who are now withdrawing their candidacies to throw their support behind Issa.
Larry Wilske, a retired Navy SEAL and Republican who was also running against Hunter, confirmed to The Associated Press that Issa plans to formally announce his candidacy Thursday. Wilske told the AP he’s dropping out of the race to support Issa.
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, who was also running for the District 50 seat, also told the AP he plans to back out to support Issa.
Hunter, who is running for re-election in the midst of a criminal indictment and pending trial on campaign finance fraud charges involving $250,000 in campaign money federal prosecutors say he misspent, narrowly won re-election last year against Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar. Campa-Najjar is running again in 2020.
In a statement, Campa-Najjar said, “Issa entering the race proves that Hunter is vulnerable and we’re viable, and that Washington insiders are scrambling to find somebody who could effectively challenge our campaign.”
Issa’s entry makes the District 50 race one of the most closely watched 2020 races in the nation. It also follows the “Blue Wave” of 2018, which saw Republicans nationwide – especially in California – unseated.
Issa opted not to run for re-election in District 49 after protesters held weekly “Resist Trump Tuesday” protests outside his former district office in Vista, California.
Democrat Mike Levin won the seat last year.
Issa joins Carl DeMaio, another San Diego Republican with strong name recognition, who previously served on the San Diego City Council and hosts a conservative talk radio show. DeMaio also led the unsuccessful initiative to repeal California’s gas tax last year.
Hunter’s trial is scheduled for Jan. 14, less than two months before the March 3 primaries in California.
The 50th District covers east San Diego County and a small portion of southern Riverside County.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.