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Democrats Looking To Thin Crowded Field In Race For 49th Congressional District

Democratic candidates for the 49th congressional district;  Doug Applegate, S...

Photo by Alison St John

Above: Democratic candidates for the 49th congressional district; Doug Applegate, Sara Jacobs, Mike Levin, Christina Prejean and Paul Kerr at a forum in Orange County, Feb 20th 2018

The California Democratic Party’s decision not to endorse a candidate in the race to replace Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, puts the Democrats in a vulnerable position.

When there was a single opponent — incumbent Issa — Democrats knew one of their candidates would make it through the primary election and go on to fight for the seat in November.

But with Issa out of the race, the math becomes trickier. It’s known as a “jungle primary,” where the top two go on to the November election, regardless of party. Now 12 candidates are running, five of them Democrats.

The Flip the 49th campaign is looking for ways to narrow the field.

RELATED: Democratic Party Endorsement In The 49th Congressional District A Long Shot

Democratic candidate Doug Applegate almost defeated Issa in November 2016. But, at a recent forum in Orange County, he warned voters that with too many candidates, Democrats might be shut out.

“We need to make some choices," he said, "or otherwise face the fact that if Rocky Chavez gets the nod, you’re going to have a Republican there for the next 12 years because it’s a Marine veteran district. We all need to take that into consideration and put our egos aside.”

The 49th Congressional District stretches from Orange County to La Jolla and includes Camp Pendleton. Both Applegate and Republican Chavez were Marine colonels, and both have come out near the top in a recent poll of likely voters.

Video by Katie Schoolov

Powerful endorsements

But polls aren't always accruate, said Orange County environmental attorney Mike Levin, the Democratic candidate with the next highest polling numbers. Levin has powerful endorsements from Washington DC and he’s raised the most money — another indication of support.

“We’ve raised over $1.25 million from over 12,000 people all over this country,” Levin said. “There’s incredible power in grassroots support and I think there is a tremendous difference between 12,000 contributors and writing yourself a $1 million check. This is not a plutocracy, this is not government by the wealthy.”

RELATED: Levin Raises Most Among Dems Vying To Replace Issa

Levin’s comment was a swipe at the Democratic candidate who comes third in the polls — Sara Jacobs. Jacobs is part of the family that founded Qualcomm Inc. At the forum she made a strong case that her experience makes up for her youth — she is not yet 30.

“While I am young, I am the only Democrat on this stage who has experience making and implementing public policy,” Jacobs said. “I’ve worked at the state department, at the United Nations, I was the CEO of an international education nonprofit and a policy adviser to Hillary Clinton.”

Photo credit: KPBS

A map shows the boundaries of the 49th Congressional District, which includes coastal communities in Orange and San Diego counties, January 2018.

Fight for the middle class

Another Democratic candidate, Paul Kerr, also has significant personal wealth to throw into the race. Kerr is a businessman with a home in Rancho Santa Fe.

“Folks, I’m the only business owner up here,” he said at the forum. “I’ve owned a business for 20 years.”

But, Kerr said, he’ll fight for the middle class because he knows from personal experience how hard it was to make it.

“I care so deeply about income inequality because I spent over 14 years of my life working minimum wage jobs,” Kerr said. “In my case, I was a busboy and then I was a cook and a waiter and a sales clerk at Sears.”

Kerr has contributed more than $700,000 to his own campaign.

The latest entry to the race, Christina Prejean, is an attorney who has served in the Air Force. She is running last in the polls among Democrats but said she has the qualities to match any of the Republican candidates.

“Now, the Republicans have brought in strong women, like Kristin Gaspar, arguably Diane Harkey, and they’ve also brought in Rocky Chavez," she said. "He’s a veteran, I’m a veteran, I’m a woman, I speak Spanish.”

Democratic voter Randy Kraft, who attended a recent forum of the candidates, said the debate didn’t reveal major differences between the candidates on the issues.

“It’s a good mix,” she said, “and I think from a policy point of view, there aren’t a lot of variations. This is going to come down to types of experience and personality — they’re all good candidates.”

But Terra Lawson-Remer of the campaign to Flip the 49th said too many good candidates is actually disruptive.

“We have quite a number of very qualified and very talented candidates in the race and if they all stay in the race, we stand a strong chance of losing in June, much less losing in November,” she said. “What I see now is a moment in which leadership looks like stepping back, and supporting someone else to step forward.”

The campaign to Flip the 49th will hold a forum this Friday at Ocean Hills near Carlsbad to establish which candidates are the most viable. So far, none of the candidates has shown any sign of being willing to step back.

The Republican candidates are expected to appear in at least two forums in March.

The California Democratic Party’s decision not to endorse a candidate in the race to replace Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, puts the Democrats in a vulnerable position.

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