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The KPBS Voter Hub logo is overlaid on an image of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. Nov, 14, 2022.
J. Scott Applewhite
The KPBS Voter Hub logo is overlaid on an image of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. Nov, 14, 2022.

Primary Election 2024: Incumbents hold advantage in San Diego congressional races

All five of the region’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are on the ballot for the March primary election, but only one race is expected to be competitive.

The top two vote getters in the March primary move on to a runoff election in November’s general election.

The incumbent in the 49th District, Democrat Mike Levin has had the closest contests since he became a member of the San Diego congressional delegation in 2018. He hopes to win re-election in the 49th District for the third time so he can help with the environment and other issues.


“Doing all I can to improve the lives of veterans, to protect so many of our community members who are at risk of gun violence, and doing all I can to protect reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights and ultimately our democracy itself,” Levin said.

The incumbent has drawn four challengers: Republicans Margarita Wilkinson , Matt Gunderson, Kate Monroe and Sheryl Adams. None are well known local political names.

Levin has raised more money than all of his challengers.

“Voters have had more time to get to know him,” said Thad Kousser, a professor of political science at UC San Diego. “He’s survived two really tough campaigns. What does that mean? It means he was on our television screens all the time in 2022 and in 2020.”

There are 157,000 registered republicans and 172,000 registered democrats in Levin’s district which covers part of coastal San Diego and Orange Counties.


Ratings from the Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Inside Elections say the outcome in the district favors democrats.

The rest of the congressional delegation is widely expected to remain as is.

The three Democrats in the House of Representatives — Juan Vargas in the 52nd District, Sara Jacobs in the 51st, and Scott Peters in the 50th District — all hold what the political ratings services consider safe seats.

Vargas is being challenged by Republican Justin Lee.

No party preference candidates Stan Caplan and Hilaire Shioura, join Republican Bill Wells in challenging Jacobs.

Peters is being challenged by Democrat Timothy Bilash, and Republicans Peter Bono and Solomon David Moss.

“San Diego has become a blue area, just like the state has become a deep blue state and now four of those congressional districts are captured by democrats,” Kousser said.

Darrell Issa is the Republican exception.

He is running to represent the 48th District again, and the political rating services say the seat is considered safe.

Primary Election 2024: Incumbents hold advantage in San Diego congressional races

There are four Democratic challengers: Mike Simon, Stephen Houlahan, Whitney Shanahan and Matthew Rascon. Lucinda Jahn is on the ballot with no party preference. Only Simon has raised more than $50,000. Issa has more than $1 million on hand.

Political observers say the rise of MAGA Republicans, the power of the incumbency and Washington’s toxic political environment are keeping viable candidates out of congressional races.

“Many, many, many of those same people now look at the House of Representatives and think … no thank you,” said Ryan Clumpner, a San Diego political strategist.

Donald Trump, in particular, continues to have an outsized impact on San Diego political races.

“The party and the party leader moved very far away from suburban and coastal Republicans who had formerly been Republicans in San Diego,” Clumper said. “So many of those people registered away from the Republican party and started voting against the Republican party in many of those elections.”

Clumpner also thinks voter friendly legislation, like the motor voter bill which allows drivers to register to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles, are bringing more young voters into the pool and that favors Democrats.

I focus on the environment and all the implications that a changing or challenging environment has for life in Southern California. That includes climate change, endangered species, habitat, urbanization, pollution and many other topics.
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