A month after Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) won reelection in the closest congressional race in the country, the congressman got a warning that his next contest could be even tougher.
An internal poll by Issa’s campaign showed a nearly 10-percentage point drop in his favorability ratings between mid-October and early December — and that one likely reason the lawmaker’s image took a hit was because of his support for President Trump.
Overall, the poll suggested Issa was hurt significantly by negative television advertising.
On Oct. 18, he had a 40% unfavorable rating, a score that rose to 49% by Dec. 7. His favorable rating edged down from 42% to 41% during that time.
The poll found that voters who saw television ads remembered Issa’s ties to Trump more than any other detail. And when voters had negative things to say about their representative, his support for Trump was at the top of the list.
Issa, one of Trump’s highest-profile supporters in last year’s campaign, has since distanced himself from the president and his administration.
Issa called for Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions to recuse himself so an “independent prosecutor” could investigate Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election, but then said a prosecutor wasn’t necessary because nobody had been accused of a crime. He later called for an “independent review.”
Trump and his policies were the major focus of sometimes sharp questions Issa faced during a town hall-style meeting Saturday in Oceanside.
In the context of the poll and the demands from constituents in the last month, it makes sense why Issa decided to hold the meeting, said Robert Dempsey, the campaign manager for Issa’s opponent last year, Democrat Doug Applegate.
“We know that when we hold our elected officials accountable, they have to stand up and stand by their records,” he said. “If I was Congressman Issa, I would not want to be in that position, which is why he is doing those town hall meetings, and seemingly moving to the center, and joining the climate change caucus.”
Issa defeated Applegate by 0.6%, a 1,621-vote margin. Applegate immediately announced he would seek a rematch in 2018.
The congressman’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment about the poll.
The survey and analysis were contained in documents for an unsuccessful $10-million libel lawsuit Issa had filed against Applegate. A judge dismissed that case on Friday.
The poll sample was exclusively from the San Diego portion of Issa’s district, an area that includes 75% of the electorate. (Issa historically has done better in the Orange County portion, which has the remaining 25% of the 49th District.)
The poll showed Issa’s strengths and weaknesses, but it also revealed, more than any other single factor, that the new president was a big influence on Issa’s public image.
“Donald Trump is deeply unpopular in the 49th District because his values are not shared by a majority on a wide array of issues,” said environmental attorney Mike Levin, former executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party who announced last week that he would enter the 2018 race. “And Darrell Issa is a full-blown Trump apologist.”
Issa won the district, but Trump received 43.2% of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 50.7%.
Stewart writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune