Darrell Issa leading in the race to take over the 50th congressional district

Darrell Issa and Ammar Campa-Najjar are vying for California's 50th congressional district seat.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda and Sam Hodgson / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Republican Darrell Issa has claimed a nearly 11,700-vote lead over Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar in the race for the 50th congressional district after initially trailing in the first set of unofficial returns released Tuesday night by the California secretary of state.

Whichever candidate holds on to win will fill a seat that has sat vacant for most of the year because its former incumbent, disgraced Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, resigned from office in January after being convicted of a federal felony related to misusing campaign funds.

As of 7 a.m. Wednesday, Issa led Campa-Najjar by more than 4.2 percentage points — or nearly 11,700 votes.

However, there are still thousands of outstanding, uncounted ballots throughout San Diego and Riverside counties, and neither candidate claimed victory on election night.


Issa was confident he would ultimately prevail in his quest to win a return to Congress when speaking with supporters Tuesday night. But while addressing about 500 attendees at the Republican Party of San Diego County election night party around 9 p.m., he stopped short of declaring victory.

“I’m going to prove tonight you can recycle anything in California,” said Issa, the longtime Republican from Vista who stepped away from his 49th District seat in 2018.

“We’re in a statistical tie,” Issa said. “We’re going to wait for the rest of the numbers, then we’ll begin the process of making the 50th great again.”

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When reached by phone Tuesday night, Campa-Najjar said he felt confident in the early returns, but said it was still far too early for any candidate to declare victory.

“I don’t think those who pay close attention to this race are surprised at all, be it me, the voters, reporters,” Campa-Najjar said.

“We knew it was going to be close and that is what it seems like. ... What is important now is to make sure we defer to voters and make sure every vote is counted.”

The race for the 50th District has been the most high-profile congressional race in San Diego County during the 2020 election cycle and represented the best hopes local Republicans had for having a member of their party represented in the San Diego delegation — which currently has four Democrats and one vacant seat.

Part of an area that historically has been a Republican stronghold, the 50th District also includes a portion of southern Riverside County. Issa has long been favored in the race despite tight polling.

Campa-Najjar, a small business owner and lecturer at San Diego State University who mounted an unsuccessful bid for the seat in 2018, was the top vote-getter during the primary, with 36.5% of the vote. That edge though was largely attributed to the divided field — there were 10 candidates but no other significant Democratic challengers.

Millions of dollars have flowed into the race, making political observers say the contest was not yet decided and things could hinge on which campaign was better able to get out the vote.

Prior to election day, more than a million voters had already cast their ballots in San Diego County, and polling suggested Campa-Najjar had a significant lead among those who voted early. The same polls though, also suggested that Issa could more than make up the ground by making sure he mobilized those who intended to vote on election day itself, a demographic that skewed in his favor by more than 7 to 1 in some polls.

Clark writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Union-Tribune staff writer Jeff McDonald contributed to this report.