2020 elections

Issa to Primary Scandal-Plagued Hunter

Darrell Issa’s now plotting a comeback against embattled former colleague Duncan Hunter. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images; Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It’s one thing to wake up in the middle of the night to hear the Hound of the Baskervilles howling in the distance. It’s another thing altogether when the beast is on your front porch sniffing and scratching at the door. That must be how U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter feels about the confirmation of a former colleague’s bad intent toward his already imperiled career, as CBS News reports:

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 charged with misuse of campaign funds. 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.”

Other than being an enthusiastic purveyor of right-wing conspiracy theories (most notably Benghazi!), Issa was probably best-known in Congress as its richest member. As you can imagine of someone under indictment for massive diversion of campaign funds to (alleged) personal uses ranging from overseas family vacations to the accoutrements of extramarital affairs to $37,000 in bounced check fees, Hunter isn’t exactly raking in the dough. He’s raised less than the Democrat, Ammar Campa-Najjar, he narrowly defeated in 2018 in his overwhelmingly Republican district. And his (and his wife’s) corruption trial is currently scheduled for January, uncomfortably near next March’s top-two primary. Having already attracted five Republican opponents even before Issa plunged in, Hunter’s reelection prospects aren’t great. Yes, Issa will be vulnerable to carpetbagger claims (though his old district is adjacent to Hunter’s), and he has the plausible argument that Hunter’s district is more hospitable to his brand of Republicanism than the one he abandoned last year (and which was subsequently won by Democrat Mike Levin in a landslide):

“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. 

Before writing off Hunter, it should be observed that he proved himself to be an unscrupulous smear-master in 2018, insinuating that Campa-Najjar had terrorist connections on the basis of his grandfather’s complicity in Palestinian attacks on Israelis long before the candidate’s birth. Like Campa-Najjar, as it happens, Issa has an Arab-American father. Surely Team Hunter is fully aware that Issa is free to run for Congress again because his plans to take an executive-branch position hit a really big snag just last week (per the Washington Post):

A Senate committee abruptly postponed a confirmation hearing Thursday for former Republican congressman Darrell Issa after his nomination to lead the U.S. Trade and Development Agency hit a snag over an issue in his FBI background check.

The postponement of Issa’s hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee came after Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the top Democrat on the panel, raised concerns about an FBI background check conducted on Issa that, he said, might be “problematic and potentially disqualifying for Senate confirmation.” He did not reveal the nature of the issue, and other committee members who have not seen the FBI report said they, too, wanted time to review the issue.

“I’m not talking about a nominee’s favorite color or where they had dinner,” Menendez (N.J.) said. “I’m talking about serious issues that go to credibility and suitability for these positions.”

There could be some ripe smear material there, and maybe even fire along with the smoke. But as I suggested when Issa first talked seriously about entering this race, Hunter might be better advised to strike a plea deal with the Feds that includes his resignation from Congress.

Hunter Becomes the Hunted