Once-Red Southern California District May Lead Blue Wave

SAN DIEGO (CN) – Southern California’s Congressional District 49, once a reliably Republican district led for nearly two decades by Rep. Darrell Issa, may flip Democratic and lead an anticipated “blue wave” in Congress on Nov. 6.

Protest signs lay on the ground outside Rep. Darrell Issa’s office in Vista, California on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (Bianca Bruno/Courthouse News Service)

Issa, who has represented District 49 since 2001, announced his retirement this year. The district includes areas of north San Diego County and south Orange County including the cities of Encinitas, Oceanside and San Clemente.

The decision to retire came after more than a year of constituents gathering at his Vista office every Tuesday morning to “resist” President Donald Trump’s administration and Issa’s support of the president’s agenda.

Issa won re-election in 2016 by the narrowest margin in the nation, only beating Democrat Doug Applegate by 1,621 votes.

District 49 is now seen as a swing district, along with a handful of other Republican strongholds throughout California which were carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016. She carried the district by 7 percent.

Now District 49 is being closely watched as a possible leader of what political analysts have dubbed the “blue wave” of Democrats winning the 23 seats needed to take over the House of Representatives.

On the ground, many of the protesters who used to gather every Tuesday at Issa’s office are now volunteers attempting to get people to vote.

In a phone interview, Flip the 49th campaign manager Johnny Papagiannis said volunteers have reached out to 127,000 voters since the June primary through calls, text messages and going door-to-door. Of those contacts, they’ve talked to 45,000 people.

While Papagiannis said there was an initial base of volunteers who previously spent their time organizing and attending protests at Issa’s office, he said it has since “grown in leaps and bounds beyond those folks.” between 1,200 and 1,500 people have volunteered with Flip the 49th since the group upped their efforts starting in late August.

While the group didn’t endorse any of the four Democratic candidates who ran in the June primary, its volunteers are now asking voters to cast their ballot for environmental attorney and Democrat Mike Levin on Nov. 6

Former President Barack Obama stumped for Levin and other Democrats in swing districts on his first campaign stop in Orange County last month. Obama called Levin “the kind of champion we need in Congress, a leader on environmental issues and a leader on climate change.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden made a similar campaign stop in Fullerton this month.

Flip the 49th is targeting low-frequency voters and voters who have registered since 2016 and as far back as 2014, Papagiannis said. The group has since abandoned its strategy of targeting some Republicans as it did during the primary, with Papagiannis finding “people entrench themselves with the party that has won.” He noted Republicans continue to “vote along party lines” and support Trump.

“The non-voter handed Trump the election in 2016 and we did not want that to be the case here,” Papagiannis said.

“More and more people see how important it is to do that given what happened in 2016. It is critical to take back the House to put a check on the Trump agenda.”

While polls – including a live poll by The New York Times – show Levin leading over Republican contender and State Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey, Papagiannis said volunteers hoping to elect a Democrat to represent District 49 will not let up until polls close.

“It does look like Levin has a little bit of a lead, but everybody also remembers who was a shoe-in to win in 2016. We aren’t letting up, we’re seeing this through until 8:00 on Nov. 6,” Papagiannis said.

Despite the polls and election forecast website FiveThirtyEight giving Levin a 97.5 percent chance of winning, Harkey hasn’t given up hope of keeping the district Republican, especially since she won the most votes during the June primary and beat Levin by nearly 15,000 votes.

Harkey also recently challenged a New York Times poll, saying the results were skewed in a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by over 18,000 according to a registration report by the Secretary of State.

She is endorsed by Trump, tax associations and multiple public safety groups including the National Border Patrol Council.

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