Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar talks with supporters after the primary election in June 2016. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar has joined the race to replace Rep. Darrell Issa in California’s 49th Congressional District, and the decision is likely to split GOP loyalties in San Diego and Orange counties.

Gaspar was elected to the County Board of Supervisors just over a year ago, and was named chair of the board only two weeks ago. But she has established a fundraising committee with the Federal Election Commission for her Congressional push, hired GOP strategist Jason Roe and locked up the endorsements of several notable conservatives in recent days.

Two of Roe’s clients, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and City Councilman Scott Sherman, have both given Gaspar their support, as well as Rep. Ed Royce of Orange County, who, like Issa, is not seeking re-election in his home district.

Issa’s announcement, on Jan. 10, set off an onslaught of speculation on the right about who was the best candidate to retain the seat. Democrats have invested heavily in the 49th Congressional District as part of a nationwide drive to take control of the House of Representatives.

Republicans enjoy a 7 percentage point registration advantage in the 49th District, which stretches from Del Mar to Dana Point, crossing San Diego and Orange counties. According to the San Diego Rostra blog, about 17 percent of Gaspar’s county seat overlaps with Issa’s, meaning they share about 65,000 voters.

Gaspar won election to the Board of Supervisors in 2016 in what was considered a swing seat, stretching along the coast from Torrey Pines State Beach to Encinitas and to the east from Mira Mesa to Escondido. Democratic registration there had surged, but the incumbent, Dave Roberts, was dogged by allegations that he instructed staffers to run personal errands for him.

Gaspar’s elevation to Congress would put that swing seat back in play for local Democrats.

In response to Issa’s decision, some observers, including Roe, remarked at the time that Issa had actually done the district a favor by removing himself from the picture. Issa was especially disliked by Democrats for the investigations he’d led into then-President Barack Obama.

Issa has also talked with advisers about the possibility of running in the 50th Congressional District should Rep. Duncan Hunter be indicted and resign.

Assemblyman Rocky Chávez and state Board of Equalization chair Diane Harkey wasted little time in throwing their hats in the ring for Issa’s seat. Harkey’s senior adviser has said she assembled a campaign team with the backing of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.

In a statement, Issa said he “strongly” supports Harkey’s candidacy.

Attorney Joshua Schoonover is also in the race, and so, too, are four Democrats — Doug Applegate, Mike Levin, Sara Jacobs and Paul Kerr. The top two finalists in the June election will move on to the November runoff.

The crowded field on the right promises to force local Republicans into factions, primarily along county lines. Most overall voters and most GOP voters in the 49th District reside in San Diego County, and Republican leaders have already emphasized the importance of keeping it a San Diego-controlled seat.

Jesse Marx is a former Voice of San Diego associate editor.

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