Democratic Hopefuls Look to Unseat Republicans in 2018

Katie Porter and Col. Doug Applegate are challenging Republican members of Congress for their seats in 2018. Porter is taking on Mimi Walters (R-45) and Applegate, Darrell Issa (R-49). (Porter/Applegate campaigns)

President Donald Trump and Republicans' control of Washington loomed large over this weekend's California Democratic Convention in Sacramento -- including among the handful of candidates who are challenging sitting Republican members of Congress in 2018.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the convention came when outgoing party chair John Burton threw up both middle fingers and said "fuck Trump," prompting wild cheers from the Democratic party faithful gathered in a giant convention hall. But that raucous moment was just the most visible outpouring of a theme that punctuated most speeches and many conversations over the weekend.

Democrats are hoping to capture that energy on behalf of candidates who will help the party regain control of the House of Representatives.

Consumer advocate Katie Porter is challenging GOP  Congresswoman Mimi Walters in the 45th District, an Orange County district that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Porter is working hard to tie Walters to the president, sending out a statement after the House health care vote calling the legislation, "Trump and Congresswoman Walters' health care plan."

This weekend, she continued to press the charge.

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"Unfortunately for the families of Orange County, Mimi Walters continues to vote 100 percent with Donald Trump against what’s best for them," she said. "So I am here to make sure everyone is aware of what she's doing and the harm that she's creating in our communities and for our families."

Not far from Walters' district, two Democrats are already vying to unseat Congressman Darrell Issa. Retired Marine Colonel Doug Applegate came close last year, losing by just over 1,600 votes in a district that spans parts of northern San Diego County and southern Orange County, and also broke for Clinton last year.

Changing demographics in that district -- not to mention Trump's unpopularity in California -- are giving Democrats hope that they can unseat Issa in 2018.

Also encouraging them: Last year was the first time since 1936 that Orange County went for a Democrat in a presidential race, as its voters have gotten younger and more diverse in recent years.

Applegate and another Democrat, environmental lawyer Mike Levin, will be running against each other but this weekend focused their energy on attacking Issa and Trump. Applegate said Issa, who made a name investigating former President Barack Obama, has tried to soften his conservative stances to better fit the district.

"Darrell Issa consistently tries to sound like he's a moderate Democrat on a Friday, but by the following Monday he's back to the same conservative Republican he's always been," said Applegate. "I expect to beat Darrell Issa in the primary—that’s what I want to accomplish, and anyone else running is more than welcome in joining in beating Darrell Issa."

Levin, who said he decided to run for the congressional seat while flying back from the East Coast the day after last year's presidential election, also focused criticism on his Republican opponent.

"He's done a good job trying to sell himself as moderate lately, but when you look at his voting record he has voted with Donald Trump 100 percent of the time," said Levin, noting Issa's vote on health care.

Issa and Walters' districts are two of seven seats held by Republicans that Democrats are hoping to claim in 2018. But even though those districts broke for Clinton over Trump, unseating sitting Republicans may not be easy.

Levin said he knows that the race will be a challenge, even in an increasingly purple district, but he believes issues like climate change and clean energy cross party lines.

"In a place like San Diego and Orange County, where we care so much about sustainability, regardless of their political affiliation people want clean air and clean water," said Levin. "I think we can break through on energy and environmental policy issues and that can be the way we get that marginal number of decline-to-state and moderate Republican voters, who may not agree with me on every issue but they also know I will listen to them."

If Republicans are worried, they're not saying so. Asked recently about Democrats targeting seven incumbent Republicans, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) shrugged.

"It's the same thing they did last time and the time before that," McCarthy said. "The fact is these Congress members represent their districts very well."

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