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Congressman Mike Levin. (Photo: Wikipedia)

2020 March Primary Preview: 49th Congressional District

California Globe takes an inside look into the 49th Congressional District primary race

By Evan Symon, February 20, 2020 8:22 pm

The 49th Congressional District:

Much like how the long stretch of the 21st District sits between the major metro areas of Bakersfield and Fresno, the 49th Congressional District sits between the end of Orange County’s sprawl and the beginning of San Diego’s. Republicans tend to have an edge here thanks to the Orange County influence and the Camp Pendleton Marine Base sitting in the middle of the district, although the Democrats have strong pockets of support thanks to the influence of San Diego’s suburbs. And they’re the ones that are growing.

The district has had something of a party identifying crisis in recent years, with Democratic candidates becoming more and more favorited, but with Republicans somehow coming back for a vengeance. Statewide elections nowadays are slightly geared to Democrats, but not by much: Newsom won by only a few percentage points here in 2018, with current Congressman Mike Levin (D-CA) only getting 56% of the vote the same year. Republicans are less likely to regain this seat as compared to others, but they still have a chance to surprise the Dems.

History of the 49th District:

The 49th has been centered around the Northern San Diego area since the district was created in 1993, so results since then have painted an accurate picture of changes in the district. Winners here go back and forth between Republicans and Democrats pretty quickly, with former Congressman Darrell Issa the only one who was elected for more than one term to date.

Issa was in office here from 2003 to 2019 when he retired. Besides for his first and final elections, his vote totals always ranged from the low 60’s to the high 50’s in terms of percentage points. The 2018 election was an outlier, and was the first election to show the changes that happened in the district over the years. Issa barely won by less than 2,000 votes over Democrat Doug Applegate, and in 2018 he retired for a whole slew of candidates to rush into the primary. Republican State Board of Equalization Chairwoman Diane Harkey lost to Levin, thus returning the seat to the Democrats after nearly two decades.

Levin is coming back for a second term, and the GOP really wants the seat back and to have the theme of the district producing mostly one-term members of Congress to keep going.

Mike Levin:

Congressman Mike Levin is duking it out for a second term in the 49th. An environmental lawyer who created a few startups in the early 2010’s, Levin quickly made a name for himself as a party leader in the OC and serving on the National Finance Committee for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. He then managed to win out the manic 2018 election thanks to San Diego area support and some key endorsements.

Due to his environmental background, Levin has found himself on mostly environmental committees in Congress, as well as a seat on the Veterans Affairs committee. Environmental issues are top priority for him, with sustainable energy being a recurring issue. Health care and education are also top issues, with his 2020 platform also including typical Democratic issues like gun control, animal welfare, and LGBT issues. Local issues are also a concern, as he also opposes toll road extension in San Diego County.

Levin is a middle-of-the-pack Democrat in terms of ideology, meaning he frequently votes more liberal but on occasion has joined the Republicans, most notably when anything threatening the well-being of the district comes up.

In addition to local, county, and state party support, Levin has gotten some critical endorsements from education unions, numerous labor unions like the SEIU, police unions, and the United Farm Workers (UFW). Former President Barack Obama is his biggest supporter in terms of name recognition, but names like Warren, Schiff, Boxer, Feinstein, Harris, Newsom, and Garcetti are there too. Any prominent Democrat here is supporting him.

Levin is a tough act to beat and could give Democrats something they have never had in the district from a candidate before: a sophomore term.

Brian Maryott:

San Juan Capistrano Mayor Brian Maryott. (Wikipedia)

Republicans are going for the throat in the 49th, and that’s pretty clear by their candidate choice alone. Levin, who lives in San Juan Capistrano, will run against Brian Maryott, his hometown’s mayor. Maryott, a Regional Brokerage Manager and a former staffer and chief of staff for lawmakers in the Massachusetts Statehouse, was elected to the San Juan Capistrano City Council in 2016. A few years later he became Mayor.

Maryott comes in as a fellow environmental supporter, but differs wildly from Levin on issues such as firearms and healthcare. After a long career from working in banks, Maryott is applying it to his campaign much how Levin applied environmental concerns. Maryott is making his platform largely fiscally based, focusing on keeping costs down and getting rid of any wasteful spending. While it largely appeals to Republicans, and his status as a Trump supporter not winning many Democratic vote changes, some of his more left-leaning issues could reach out to unaffiliated voters.

The Republican Party supports him in 2020, and Maryott has picked up several police unions to combat Levin’s police support. Maryott has also received support from many in the military in the area. Former Governor Pete Wilson is the biggest name supporter of Maryott’s, although the support of Issa and many other state and local Republican lawmakers is going to help out too.

What does this mean?

2020 will be the deciding year for the 49th. Has it gone completely to the Democrats, or are the Republicans going to strike back? Many polls rate the district as swing or even giving Republicans a slight edge, but the general voting trend is favoring Democrats.

There’s no one catch-all issue here that can make or break candidates. They both appeal to liberals and conservatives respectively and only meet in the middle to appeal to undecided voters on local important issues like environmental concerns. And that most likely means voter turnout, at least in the primary, will offer a raw view on what the voter percentages in the district look like. From there the candidates will adjust their messages accordingly.It’s too early to say who wins this as both candidates are seeing high levels of support and both appeal to independent voters. If either is up 5% or more in the primary, they most likely have the election in November

The Battle of San Juan Capistrano looms.

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