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Democrats Target Rep. Issa's Seat As One They Could Take From Republicans - NPR Morning Edition

By Scott Detrow, NPR

Rep. Darrell Issa won his Southern California seat by less than a point last year. With Issa trying to distance himself from President Trump, Democrats feel confident about unseating Issa next year.

Transcript:

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We now have a preview of the 2018 elections when all House seats are up, including some vulnerable Republicans in California. Here's NPR's Scott Detrow.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: How historically Republican is Orange County, Calif.? So Republican that even the liberal political fantasy series "The West Wing" couldn't justify a plot where a main character can win a congressional seat there while running as a Democrat.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WEST WING")

ROB LOWE: (As Sam Seaborn) He says it's how a Democrat wins Orange County.

BRADLEY WHITFORD: (As Josh Lyman) Has a Democrat ever won Orange County?

LOWE: (As Sam Seaborn) No.

WHITFORD: (As Josh Lyman) Then how would he know?

DETROW: But Democrats now hold three of the county's seven seats. One big reason is demographic. There's a growing Latino and Asian population. Educated, suburban voters that populate Orange County have begun to trend Democrat. Jack Pitney is a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California.

JACK PITNEY: Unfortunately for the Republicans, Donald Trump has greased the chute. He's anathema to Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, educated professionals. And that's one of the reasons why the Republican Party is in such trouble in Orange County.

DETROW: Hillary Clinton was the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Orange County since Franklin Roosevelt. Clinton also carried all four of the county's Republican-held congressional districts. Now Democrats see all those seats as prime targets to flip.

No Republican is feeling the heat more than Darrell Issa. His seat is mostly in and around San Diego, but also covers a stretch of southern Orange County. Issa won a seat by the slimmest of margins last year, less than 1 percent. And as Trump's popularity has waned, Issa has begun to pivot. He opposed the Trump-backed health care bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DARRELL ISSA: That's not because of a specific, you know, this is unacceptable. But because I think we can do better.

DETROW: And made national headlines by seeming to join democratic demands that a special prosecutor be named to investigate Russia's meddling in last year's election. That happened on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER")

BILL MAHER: You're going to need to use the special prosecutor's statute in office, not just to recuse. That's - you can't just give it to your deputy that's another political appointee.

DETROW: Democrats say Issa is backpedaling. Orange County Republican chair Fred Whitaker disagrees, saying for Issa, independent streaks are on brand.

FRED WHITAKER: Darrell Issa has always been a maverick. And so is he going to be lockstep with everybody in House leadership or lockstep with everything in the platform? Not all the time.

DETROW: But it's clear that Democrats see Issa as vulnerable. The State and National parties are already assigning staffers to his district, and one Democratic challenger says he raised more than a quarter million dollars in the week since he announced a run. Jack Pitney used a beach metaphor to talk about the oceanside district.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PITNEY: It's a sign that there's trauma in the water and democratic sharks are circling.

DETROW: Republican Fred Whitaker isn't worried about the other party.

WHITAKER: I love the fact that the Democrats are going to waste their money here.

DETROW: He is a little worried about what's happening in Congress. Whitaker admits that the first hundred days of the Trump administration have been frustrating at times for the GOP base. For every success like the Neil Gorsuch confirmation to the Supreme Court, there's a roadblock like the failed health care bill.

WHITAKER: If we haven't made progress or the perception is there's no progress, certainly it will be harder to motivate the base to go out against the Democrats.

DETROW: Because Democratic voters appear to be very motivated regardless of what happens on Capitol Hill. Scott Detrow, NPR News.

Danielle Gradisher