On Monday, GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA-50) changed his plea to guilty on federal charges of misusing $250,000 in campaign funds and indicated he would leave Congress shortly. As in the case of former GOP Rep. Chris Collins (NY-27), Hunter was the main reason the seat was at risk, and his exit improves the GOP's odds of holding his inland San Diego seat President Trump carried 55 percent to 40 percent in 2016.
Hunter is expected to appear in court tomorrow, but at this point, there is some uncertainty about the timing of his resignation. Under California law, Gov. Gavin Newsom must schedule a special election within 140 days of declaring a vacancy. However, if Hunter were to resign after close of business Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom would not be obligated to schedule a special election to fill the seat at all.
Most California politicos consider it likely there will be a special election that coincides with the regular all-party primary for this seat on March 3, Super Tuesday, which is likely to draw heavy Democratic presidential primary turnout. That's what's underway in the 25th CD, where Democratic Rep. Katie Hill resigned and a special election runoff is scheduled for May 12 if no candidate gets 50 percent in the initial round.
But unlike in the 25th CD, which voted for Hillary Clinton by seven points, it might be very tough for Democrats to capture the traditionally GOP 50th CD outright on March 3. Democratic former Labor Department official Ammar Campa-Najjar took 48 percent against an indicted Hunter last fall, but will appear on the primary and special election ballots alongside multiple unindicted Republicans who are poised to spend heavily.
Former GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, who represented the next-door 49th CD until this January, and former GOP San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio, who lost a 2014 race in the neighboring 52nd CD, will be competing to advance to face Campa-Najjar in a special election runoff and next November. Both sport plenty of baggage, but either would start out in a better general election position than Hunter.
GOP state Sen. Brian Jones, who represents much of the 50th CD, is also in the race. But an October SurveyUSA poll taken for KGTV showed Jones at just four percent to 31 percent for Campa-Najjar, 20 percent for DeMaio, 16 percent for Issa and 11 percent for Hunter. The situation is still fluid, but for now Hunter's district moves from Lean Republican to the Solid Republican column.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File