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After 8 Terms, Trump Supporter Rep. Darrell Issa Faces Close Race


Just nine more days until Americans go to the polls in an election that will go down in the history books for a lot of reasons, all of which have to do with the two people at the very top of the ticket, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But there are a whole lot of other races happening around the country. And today, we're going to give you a glimpse into some of them.

We'll begin this hour in California, where eight-term Congressman Darrell Issa is in the fight of his political life. This matters on the national level because Democrats are looking to make serious gains in Congress. And Issa's seat, once thought to be a safe bet for Republicans, is now up for grabs. We're joined now by Steve Walsh with member station KPBS in San Diego, Issa's home district.

Hey, Steve. Thanks for being with us.


MARTIN: Darrell Issa has served eight terms in Congress, winning each of his previous re-elections by 15 points or more, which is a lot. Clearly, he's been doing something right for his constituents. Why has he been so popular?

WALSH: Well, he's been popular because his view of the world matched his district. Issa has always been kind of a happy warrior. He's known for investigations into Benghazi, the Fast and Furious gun-buying programs. But over the years, his district has tightened up. It's become a little more purple.

MARTIN: His Democratic contender is a military veteran named Doug Applegate. What can you tell us about him?

WALSH: I would say he's pretty much tailor-made for this district. He's a first-time candidate, and he's a retired Marine colonel who spent some time in Iraq. And right in the middle of this district, which straddles Orange County and San Diego County, is Camp Pendleton, a large Marine base...


WALSH: ...Here in San Diego. So there are a lot of people that his background appeals to.

MARTIN: So what happened? Why, at this point, has the race become so close?

WALSH: Well, a lot of people point to Donald Trump. Issa originally supported Marco Rubio. But when Trump came to town in May, Issa got up on stage and compared him to Ronald Reagan.


DARRELL ISSA: And the only way we're going to get our economy going again the way Ronald Reagan did is with somebody like Donald Trump.

WALSH: Since then, we've found that Trump is very unpopular in California. And we're talking about a district that is starting to see some changes. There's been a late surge in younger and more Latino voters, two groups that are not particularly prone to support Donald Trump. Also, this is a very highly educated district, and that has not been a really strong market for Trump. So in the process, as ISIS starts campaigning hard for this, he's really started to pivot and try to recast himself as much more of a centrist person.

MARTIN: OK. So what has that looked like? Because Darrell Issa - you say that name to people who know, and he does not conjure up the image of a centrist.

WALSH: Oh, no, indeed. In 2003, he spent his own money in the recall race of California Governor Gray Davis. So up until this point, he really has been, you know, very much the happy warrior. But now, he's saying that he's been tough on both sides, including early on in the Bush administration.

And he put out this ad that shows a large picture of President Obama signing a piece of legislation that was also supported by Darrell Issa and thanking the president for his support. And the president that was actually here, up in La Jolla, just a couple of weeks ago. And he said that took a tremendous amount of chutzpah for Darrell Issa to put that - you know, Darrell Issa has called him one of the most corrupt presidents in the history of the presidency. So this, in many ways, has gone from a very safe district to an uphill battle.

MARTIN: Steve Walsh of KPBS, our member station in San Diego.

Hey, Steve, thanks so much.

WALSH: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.