Lexy Brodt contributed reporting to this article
REGION — Shortly before precincts closed in California on election night, outgoing U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) predicted on Fox News what polls had suggested.
“There will be a Democrat representing La Jolla to Solana Beach for the first time in a number of years,” Issa said of his soon-to-be former district.
On Nov. 7, hours after the statement, several media outlets called the 49th Congressional District race in favor of Mike Levin, an Orange County attorney who had campaigned for the seat for nearly two years.
Levin defeated Republican State Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey, 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent, flipping the district in favor of the Democrats for the first time in more than two decades.
He addressed a packed ballroom of supporters at the Hilton Del Mar hotel late Tuesday night, celebrating the apparent victory and its implications across the landscape, as Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives during the midterm cycle.
“And well tonight we celebrate a great victory in the 49th District, that’s not all we celebrate, because tonight, our country has rediscovered the Democratic Party,” Levin said. “Because of your hard work and the efforts of so many campaigns like ours across the country, the U.S. House of Representatives once again is in the hands of the people.”
Levin campaigned on bridging the partisan divide in Washington, but remaining steadfast on issues such as increased gun safety, protecting California’s coastline from offshore drilling, fostering a strong bio tech and clean energy sector, finding a solution to the nuclear waste at the San Onofre nuclear power plant and affordable health care for all.
Supporters at the event praised Levin for his strong stance on environmental issues, gun safety and a more equitable economy for the middle class.
Michael Hetz from Encinitas, who worked for Levin’s campaign, said he had been pretty nervous the past few weeks. He said climate change is his No. 1 issue and he looks forward to having a democrat on the science committee. “This is a big, big night,” he said.
Gloria Garrett, a Del Mar resident, said that the environment was her chief issue during the midterm elections. She came to the event “wanting to be part of the feeling of change that is happening.”
Levin and Harkey’s matchup was heavily scrutinized by national media as it was one of several seats held by Republicans that was considered vulnerable for a flip. Two years earlier, Issa barely survived a fierce challenge by Doug Applegate, winning by less than 2,000 votes.
The Cook Partisan Voting Index, a measure of the partisan lean of a district, is an R+1, one of the slimmest margins in the congressional landscape. Voters overwhelmingly favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
Democrats campaigned nearly nonstop after Issa’s victory to unseat him, including hosting rallies outside of his office for an entire year. Issa announced his retirement in January, which triggered a flood of hopefuls looking to replace him.
Levin and Harkey emerged from the group of 16 candidates, which included Applegate, State Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar and former nonprofit director Sara Jacobs.
But as the campaign progressed, polls showed Levin was the clear favorite heading into the race, and the Republican National Committee spent little money in the district, essentially writing it off as a loss.
Levin’s campaign was buoyed by an endorsement from the San Diego Union-Tribune, as well as Harkey’s own missteps, including questions about her husband’s real estate lending business — to which a civil jury rendered judgments of breach of fiduciary responsibility and 11 counts of financial elder abuse, awarding more than $12.5 million to victims and investors — and whether her previous campaigns were buoyed by the proceeds.
Levin and Democratic groups peppered Harkey with attack ads accusing Mr. Harkey of running a so-called Ponzi scheme that bilked senior investors out of millions.
Harkey accused Levin in ads of representing the now-defunct mortgage lender Countrywide Financial and filing eviction proceedings against homeowners during the 2008 financial crisis.
The Coast News has repeatedly reached out to Harkey’s campaign for comment. We will update the story once it is received.