SAN DIEGO (AP) — Former California Rep. Darrell Issa plans to run against indicted fellow GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter, The Associated Press has learned.
Larry Wilske, a retired Navy SEAL also running for Hunter’s seat, told the AP on Wednesday that Issa told him he will enter the race.
Issa scheduled a news conference in Hunter’s San Diego-area district on Thursday.
Wilske said he plans to drop out as result and support Issa.
The former nine-term congressman formed an exploratory committee last month and was widely known to be considering a run in the staunchly Republican district east of San Diego. Issa retired from his long stint in Congress before the 2018 election in a neighboring district that he narrowly won two years earlier.
Wilske said Issa, 65, is a safer bet that Hunter’s district will remain in Republican hands, and his many years in the House pave the way for him to become a ranking member on committees.
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, who also was running for Hunter’s seat, said he too plans to bow out and back Issa.
“I think he’s the one in the best position to win and get something done,” Wells said. “We need to get back to the business of having a presence in Washington.”
Hunter has said he has no plans to step down despite being indicted. He is scheduled to be tried in January for allegedly siphoning campaign money for personal use.
The 42-year-old Marine combat veteran is also being challenged by Republican Carl DeMaio, a radio host and former San Diego city councilman with broad name recognition, and Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who came within 3.4 percentage points of unseating Hunter in November.
Issa’s entry is expected to make it one of the most closely watched congressional contests in the country. Republicans have a big advantage in voter registration in California’s 50th district, which covers east San Diego County and a small part of southern Riverside County.
Hunter won a sixth term last year, barely two months after he and his wife were charged with using more than $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses ranging from groceries to golf trips and family vacations. Margaret Hunter has pleaded guilty to one corruption count and agreed to cooperate with investigators.
Hunter, whose father represented the district in Congress for 28 years, has pleaded not guilty and framed the charges as political attack by prosecutors sympathetic to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid.