Darrell Issa's Challenger Opens Up Lead in Democratic Poll

No challenger to eight-term Republican Rep. Darrell Issa has come any closer than 16 points in California's 49th District.

But Issa trails Democrat Doug Applegate by 4 points in a Democratic poll obtained first by Roll Call.

The poll, conducted Sept. 28-30 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee by Tulchin Research, put Applegate at 46 percent and Issa at 42 percent.

Twelve percent of the 400 likely voters surveyed were undecided. The survey was conducted on landlines and cell phones and had a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points. 

In the presidential race, Democrat Hillary Clinton held a 14-point edge in this district, which Mitt Romney carried by 6 points in 2012. Clinton led her GOP rival Donald Trump 49 to 35 percent. The polling memo pointed out that this survey was conducted after the first presidential debate last week.

Issa’s most recent poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies in the beginning of September, showed the incumbent ahead 52 to 38 percent. An August internal poll from Applegate’s campaign put him behind Issa by just 3 points, 45 to 42 percent. 

The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call recently changed the rating of this race from Safe Republican to Republican Favored.

Applegate, a retired Marine colonel, has been running an ad tying the GOP incumbent to Trump. “Just like Trump, Issa gamed the system to line his own pockets,” the narrator says.

Issa is the wealthiest member of Congress. He was worth at least $254.65 million in 2014, according to Roll Call’s Wealth of Congress Index

A hybrid ad from the DCCC and Applegate that began airing on San Diego broadcast and cable TV this week hits Issa and “the tea party Republicans” for voting against health care for 9/11 first responders. 

Issa recently debuted a positive spot with constituents touting his service, and a negative ad against Applegate. “Nancy Pelosi picked him, but we can’t afford him,” it says.

The Republican congressman has plenty more money to run ads. He ended the three-month Federal Election Commission reporting period in June with $3.8 million in his campaign account. Applegate had only $136,000 at the end of the same period. 

Democrats must net 30 seats to win control of the House, and to even come close, they need recruits to over-perform the Democratic presidential nominee in plenty of tossup and traditionally red districts. The party credits Trump’s candidacy for putting many more districts, including Issa’s, on the map for them.

Issa has come under fire for his role as President Barack Obama’s chief inquisitor as chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He also has embraced Trump, comparing the GOP nominee to Ronald Reagan and serving as a delegate for him at the Republican National Convention.

The district is increasingly blue, with Republicans holding only an 8-point registration advantage and the Cook Political Report tightening the race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.”

Issa, who has been spending more time in the district, is the wealthiest member of Congress and has a big fundraising advantage.


In the Central Valley’s overwhelmingly Democratic 21st District, Republican David Valadao would seem vulnerable to a Trump backlash. The district is more than 70 percent Latino.

But the two-term congressman, who trounced a Democratic challenger in 2014, says he won’t vote for Trump and he advocates a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally. Emilio Huerta, a Bakersfield attorney and son of labor icon Dolores Huerta, finished a distant second to Valadao in June, squeaking by fellow Democrat and Fowler Councilman Daniel Parra, who has refused to support him.

In the increasingly Democratic 25th District north of Los Angeles, freshman Republican Steve Knight has not said whether he will vote for Trump. He was one of seven California incumbents to fall short of a majority in June, and the Cook report rates it the state’s only toss-up.

Democrat Bryan Caforio, a trial attorney who criticized Knight’s response to the huge gas leak in the community of Porter Ranch, is poised to benefit from anti-Trump sentiment among the large number of Latino families in the district. But Caforio moved there only last year, leading critics to label him a carpetbagger.


Trump may also be a weight on two-term Republican Jeff Denham in the 10th District, which includes Modesto. Democrat Michael Eggman, an almond grower, lost to Denham by 12 percentage points in 2014 and finished 20 points behind in June.

Despite the previous loss, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee lists Eggman on its “Red to Blue” roster of top takeover prospects. The district voted for Obama twice.

“I think the Democrats think, ‘We have a chance not because of the candidate but because of the year,’” said Wesley Hussey, associate professor of government at California State University, Sacramento.

In the Silicon Valley’s 17th District, Mike Honda faces a rematch against fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, a former U.S. Commerce Department official under Obama who narrowly lost to Honda 2014 and beat him by 2 points in the June primary.

Honda, the only California incumbent who didn’t finish first in the primary, has long been under scrutiny by the House Ethics Committee for allegations he had congressional aides perform campaign work when they were supposed to be working on government business.

Meantime, Khanna’s campaign manager resigned last month after Honda sued, alleging the challenger’s aide stole fundraising information from the eight-term incumbent.


The best chance for a Republican pickup may be Sacramento’s 7th District, which Ami Bera narrowly won in 2012 and 2014. Bera’s father was sentenced to a year in federal prison in August for illegally funneling nearly $270,000 to his son’s campaigns. Ami Bera was not charged and denied knowing about his father’s activities.

The Teamsters endorsed Republican Scott Jones, the Sacramento County sheriff, after Bera supported fast-track trade negotiating authority for Obama and then withdrew support after Jones backed Trump.


The retirement of nine-term Democrat Lois Capps creates an opening in the 24th District on the Central Coast. Only eight other districts in the country have received more money from super PACs and other outside groups, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Democrat Salud Carbajal, a Santa Barbara County supervisor, is favored but 28-year-old Republican businessman Justin Fareed has made it competitive.

“If Fareed can win that race, it’s going to be a really bad night for Democrats,” Hussey said.

In Orange County’s 44th District, former state Sen. Lou Correa and Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen, both Democrats, are competing for an open seat created by Democrat Loretta Sanchez’s U.S. Senate run.

In Los Angeles’ 44th District, Democrats Nanette Barragan, a former Hermosa Beach councilwoman, and state Sen. Isadore Hall III, want to replace Janice Hahn, who is running for county supervisor.

And in Monterey’s 20th District, Democrat Jimmy Panetta, son of former U.S. Rep. and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, is expected to succeed the retiring Sam Farr.

 (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)