Darrell Issa Gets Viable Challenger

Retired Marine colonel's strong showing in jungle primary surprises experts

Rep. Darrell Issa's support of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump may have hurt him among Latinos in his district. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa might have a viable challenger in the coming general election after his Democratic opponent made an impressive showing in this week's primary contest.  

Under California's election system, the two candidates with the highest number of votes in the primary face off in the general election, regardless of party.  

Doug Applegate came within slightly under than 6,900 votes of Issa in the state's 49th District primary, according to the California Secretary of State website, taking 45 percent of the vote to Issa's 51 percent. Issa won his last election with more than 60 percent of the vote.  

"This is now a real candidacy," Applegate told local media. "If Darrell Issa was asleep, he’s awake now."  

Applegate, an attorney, is also a retired Marine Corps colonel, which may contribute to his appeal in the Southern California district where the largest employer is Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base where Applegate was stationed.  

Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, told KPBS that Issa's support for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump probably hurt him.  

"Being associated with Donald Trump, being in the party of Donald Trump, being an endorser of Donald Trump may have pulled him down, especially in a district that has a lot of Latino voters," Kousser said.  

And the competitive presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders boosted Democratic turnout.  

"I think things could look much different in November," Kousser said.  

Applegate has significant hurdles if he wants to beat Issa in the general.  

Issa, the richest member of Congress, reported more than $3.7 million in cash on hand ahead of Tuesday's primary, whereas Applegate reported only $13,809.01.  

Republican Mitt Romney carried the district over President Barack Obama by 6 percentage points in the 2012 presidential election.   

While Applegate is quite critical of Donald Trump, he, like the billionaire mogul, is known to occasionally be salty on his own Twitter account, talking about how Republicans "screwed" voters.

Contact Garcia at EricGarcia@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @EricMGarcia. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.