Former House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, who retired last year, is running for Congress once again.
The California Republican announced Thursday that he will campaign for the House seat currently occupied by Duncan Hunter, a GOP congressman who has been. Issa had launched an exploratory committee in late August, during which he said he received more than 2,400 letters and checks averaging $82 asking him to run.
"In politics, when thousands respond to 'I'm looking at this…I'm exploring it,' you pay attention," he said. "I'm dedicated to do that because I believe I have the history, the skills, the seniority and the capability to hit the ground running not just for this district, but for California. To help Republicans compete in what has become a very treacherous and difficult Congress and to retake the majority."
Issa served for 18 years in the neighboring 49th congressional district in San Diego county. He saw his profile rise when he was Chairman of the House Oversight committee in 2010,the Obama administration's handling of the Benghazi attacks as well as a gun-trafficking scandal known as "Fast and Furious."
Hunter's trial was originally slated for September 10, but was moved to January 14, 2020 — less than two months before California's "jungle primary" in which the two candidates who receive the most votes, regardless of party, are chosen to face off in the general election. Federal prosecutors say Hunter spent nearly $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenditures, including affairs with numerous women. He denies the charges.
"Congressman Hunter has been honored to earn the support of his constituents and proudly represent them in Congress for six consecutive terms. He is running for re-election so that he can continue the important work he is doing to support President Trump and to continue focusing on the issues that are important to him and his constituents. Congressman Hunter looks forward to earning their support again in 2020," Hunter's campaign spokesman said in a statement.
Hunter has already filed for re-election in 2020 and has raised over $500,000 throughout the first two fiscal quarters. While Issa shied away from discussing Hunter's charges, he also said he was running to keep the district Republican.
"These are very unfortunate situations but…[Hunter] deserves his day in court. I expect everyone to presume he's innocent til' proven guilty, but we are here because we believe that we need a single candidate who can in-fact ensure that this conservative district stays in conservative hands," Issa said.
Hunter was already facing a wide slate of Republican challengers ahead of a potential rematch with Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, his 2018 opponent. Campa-Najjar leads all candidates in fundraising with over $700,000 raised through June. The number of challengers slimmed down during Issa's announcement, however, when three already-filed candidates said they would drop out and back Issa instead.
Issa was previously nominated by President Donald Trump to be director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, but has been in confirmation limbo over the past year. Earlier in September, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee decided to delay his confirmation hearing indefinitely, due to concerns about potentially disqualifying FBI background file information. Issa said he talked it over with the President and White House leadership last week, and ultimately decided to shift focus to his House race.
"The Senate delayed me like it has delayed hundreds and hundreds of other people. Had I been in that position…I might not have been able to focus on this race," he said. "And the discussion with the president, I left with his knowing that I would not pursue the TDA and I came home to prepare for this."
Hunter had consistently won the district by wide margins but faced a close re-election in 2018. Issa's former district, California's 49th, was flipped by Democrat Mike Levin in 2018. Issa himself also faced a tight race in 2016, which he said was a factor in his retirement announcement before the midterms.
"I'll be candid, when the district changed. I didn't fit the district, it became a very, very, if you will, moderate district. I've been somebody that works with the Freedom Caucus…and my politics are conservative politics. Sometimes you have to ask, "Do you fit the district?" Issa said.
Campa-Najjar, the leading Democratic contender for the seat, blasted Issa, who was once the wealthiest member of Congress.
"It's pretty obvious what's happening here. We currently have a congressman who is facing a criminal trial and completely unfit to serve, so a bunch of other politicians — including those who don't even live here — see it as an opportunity to advance their own careers," Campa-Najjar said in a statement.
"When I think about the working families I grew up around in East County, the last person on earth who would understand their day-to-day struggles is Darrell Issa."