SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — As six candidates took the stage Friday, the eyes on who would be the one to replace former Congressman Duncan Hunter focused mainly on three.
Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar and Republicans Carl DeMaio and Darrell Issa. The three are polling among the top for two spots up for grabs in the March primary.
The two highest vote-getters on March 3 will get a ticket to the November runoff for the 50th Congressional District seat.
Hunter resigned in January after pleading guilty to one count of campaign fraud.
Campa-Najjar is making another run for the seat after he narrowly lost in 2018 to Hunter, who was then under indictment.
He opened the debate Friday.
"For me it's about rewarding the middle class, lowering the cost of housing, making sure that health care is affordable, we will talk about all of that today," Campa-Najjar said.
The debate mainly focused on housing. Former City Councilman DeMaio placed a lot of the blame for the state's high costs on Democrats in Sacramento.
"We see people leaving because California is not what it once was," DeMaio said.
With Democrats entirely behind Campa-Najjar, DeMaio and Issa have been attacking each other for that second spot in the runoff.
Issa represented districts in San Diego County in Congress for nearly two decades. He did not run for re-election in 2018, saying he had plans to serve in the Trump administration.
"The president nominated me not once, but twice, to serve in his administration but I was blocked by the Senate," Issa said.
The race has garnered national attention mainly due to political attack ads between DeMaio and Issa. A recent Issa ad attacking DeMaio was criticized by his own party for displaying headlines that described DeMaio as gay.
Still, Issa largely did not engage with DeMaio on the debate stage.
Instead, it was Campa-Najjar who needled both. In his exchange, he took aim at DeMaio for always attacking state politicians.
"If you want to work on it run for governor man, half this room does not understand why you're running for Congress? All your proposals are about California," Campa-Najjar told DeMaio on stage. "And join Brian Jones in the Senate and help us reduce our taxes in California."
Jones is also running for the 50th District seat.
"And the other half of the room knows exactly what I'm talking about," DeMaio responded to Campa-Najjar.
DeMaio says he can reform the state while serving in Congress.
"You can do both. It's called leadership," DeMaio added.
Meanwhile, Issa says he would use his experience in Congress to be influential as soon as he's elected.
"I believe with my 18 years of experience and seniority, I go right to the top of key committees," Issa said.
Topics for debate included job growth, housing discrimination politics, and eliminating the cap on state and local tax deductions.