SAN DIEGO — Former California Republican U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa was victorious Saturday in his race to return to Congress where he once headed the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and became a GOP favorite for launching a string of investigations of the Obama administration.
The former nine-term congressman and ardent supporter of President Donald Trump trailed early in the San Diego-area 50th District. But as more votes were counted after Election Day, he overtook Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar. The latest vote count update gave him about 54% of the votes and a 23,000-vote lead.
Issa already had declared victory in a statement posted to social media Friday night.
"Whether you supported me in this election or not, I will work tirelessly in Congress for all who call the 50th District their home, for The State of California which I love so much, and for our great country," Issa wrote. He thanked Campa-Najjar "for a spirited campaign."
Campa-Najjar, a 31-year-old former Obama administration official, was making his second bid for the seat. He received more votes than he did in 2018 and thanked his supporters for "giving a Latino-Arab American a chance to do something special."
The 67-year-old Issa, once the wealthiest member of Congress, served 18 years in the House. But he didn't seek re-election two years ago in the increasingly Democratic 49th District straddling San Diego and Orange counties. That seat is now held by Democratic Rep. Mike Levin, who won re-election this week.
Issa ran this year in the neighboring and more conservative 50th District anchored in eastern San Diego County. That seat became vacant when GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter resigned after pleading guilty to a corruption charge.
Issa was among a group of Republican congressional candidates who fared well even though President Donald Trump was trounced in California by Democrat Joe Biden. GOP candidates had leads of varying sizes in four California districts won by Democrats in 2018. Republicans currently hold just seven of California's 53 House seats.
When Issa was last in Congress, the GOP had a majority in the House. He was chairman of the oversight committee from 2011 to 2015 and oversaw high-profile investigations into the Obama administration, including its handling of affairs leading up to the attacks on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Issa said he also pushed through 40 pieces of legislation under the Obama administration, showing his ability to get bipartisan support on issues. He said he backs a middle-ground approach on immigration that includes offering law-abiding immigrants the chance to fill jobs Americans do not want.
Issa said he also will push for a common-sense approach to the coronavirus pandemic that brings in the voices of business to find a way to operate safely without having to shut down.
His top priority, he said, will be to support the armed forces and veterans.
"I want to take care of the troops," he told The Associated Press in an interview in October, acknowledging the military's presence in the 50th District and the Hunter family's enduring popularity there.
Hunter, a combat Marine veteran, served 11 years in the seat before resigning and being sentenced to prison for misusing campaign funds. Hunter's father, who held the seat for decades, is still widely respected. He endorsed Issa.
Issa, a car alarm magnate, spent heavily on the race to beat Campa-Najjar, who nearly ousted Hunter in 2018 as a political newcomer while the congressman was under indictment.
Campa-Najjar, whose mother is Mexican and father Palestinian, built a strong grassroots campaign. But he also angered Democrats by tacking too far to the right, touting his gun ownership and meeting with the founder of a right-wing group and saying he wasn't sure whether he would vote for Biden.
He later apologized and showed a photo of his ballot to prove he voted for Biden.
In a statement after Issa's victory, he told Mexican and Palestinian Americans: "Don't give up, stay in the arena. I know I will."
Campa-Najjar, who had courted Trump supporters during the campaign, also asked those "who gave me a chance" to now give Biden "the same chance to be America's President."