US House race to watch: Darrell Issa vs Ammar Campa-Najjar

Arab American candidates compete for one of southern California’s last conservative strongholds.

Republican Darrell Issa, a Lebanese American, was once the richest member of Congress [File: Gregory Bull/AP]

Two candidates with Arab roots are vying for California’s 50th congressional district seat in the US House of Representatives.

The San Diego-area 50th congressional district lost its representative in January when Republican Duncan Hunter resigned after pleading guilty to misuse of campaign funds.

The candidates

Republican Darrell Issa, a Lebanese American and once the richest member of Congress, is up against Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who has a Palestinian father and a Mexican-American mother.

Both advanced from the top-two primary election in March after third-place finisher Republican Carl DeMaio conceded defeat.

Their backgrounds

Issa, 66, an ally of President Donald Trump who spent 18 years in the House, retired in 2018.

He built a national reputation and became a favourite within the GOP when he chaired the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and served as the chief congressional antagonist to then-President Barack Obama.

After narrowly winning re-election in 2016, Issa decided not to run again two years later in the 49th District where Democrats had been gaining ground for years.

He is now trying to win one of southern California’s last conservative strongholds.

Campa-Najjar has fashioned himself as a moderate Democrat [File: Gregory Bull/AP]

Campa-Najjar, 31, a public affairs officer under the administration of former President Barack Obama, was the first Latino Arab American to run for Congress in 2018, when he came within 3 percentage points of defeating Hunter.

He owns a small consulting firm.

The issues

Campa-Najjar has fashioned himself as a more moderate Democrat since he first ran for the seat two years ago.

He has touted his local roots, Christian faith and gun ownership to woo independents and Republicans in southern California’s most conservative congressional district.

But he stirred controversy among Democrats when he said during an interview this month that he has not yet decided whether or not he would vote for Joe Biden.

Campa-Najjar was forced into damage control, saying he meant to convey that any presidential candidate must earn his vote. He then voted early and provided a photo showing his ballot was marked for Biden.

Issa supports Trump’s stands on issues such as stricter immigration enforcement and gun rights.

On immigration he says: “My position on the border is simple: We must build the wall.”

Issa’s campaign currently leads Campa-Najjar in overall contributions with $6.5m, which includes $2.6m in direct contributions and an additional $4.2m of his own personal funds.


Republicans have traditionally won California’s 50th congressional district.

Political analysts see the seat as likely staying in GOP hands but there are encouraging signs for Democrats.

The district’s Republican voter registration edge that helped Trump carry it by 15 points in 2016 has dropped by 30 percent.

Source: Al Jazeera, AP