Darrell Issa kicks off his congressional bid at a press conference. / Photo by Megan Wood

On Tuesday, former Rep. Darrell Issa seemed to deliver a big blow to his rival, former City Councilman Carl DeMaio. They have both locked into a fierce fight for what is perceived to be just one spot in the runoff election to replace former Rep. Duncan Hunter.

And Tuesday, Issa got the endorsement of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. But the announcement was kind of weird.

Issa has always had two sides. He’s the car thief who sold car alarms. He goes on “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO (in 2009, he told Maher he would have voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court had he been in the Senate). He ingratiates himself with tech leaders and advocates of open government. He had a moderate, conciliatory side. But he was also a fierce partisan, jaw-clenching BenGhAzi inquisitor.

Tuesday he was the former, the moderate announcing with pride that Faulconer, the supposed future-of-the-GOP-in-California, climate-change-understanding, friend of Mexico, endorsing him.

Issa’s announcement of the endorsement came in an email with a link to the video ad Faulconer had cut for him.

“I’m supporting Darrell Issa because he’s one of the hardest-working members of Congress,” Faulconer says in the video.

It was kind of strange because … Issa is not one of the hardest-working members of Congress.

He’s not in Congress. Issa “retired” from his post representing the 49th Congressional District at the end of 2018.

So was Faulconer confused, standing there in the arches of Liberty Station?

No, no he wasn’t.

It turns out, Faulconer filmed that video in 2016 for a past Issa run in his former district. Faulconer’s team didn’t know that Issa was using the video. They didn’t know he was going to announce Faulconer’s endorsement that day.

By Wednesday night, Issa had pulled the ad.

But that was fine because by Wednesday, Issa was into his other costume. He aired an ad that tore into DeMaio for being too critical of Trump and then it shifted to two scenes that show headlines calling DeMaio gay.

Gay-baiting has dogged DeMaio campaigns before but usually it is more subtle.

As if trying to reach a record of nastiness crammed into one commercial spot, the ad dragged DeMaio for expressing support in the past for creating a pathway to citizenship for some immigrants living here without valid visas. Some version of that had been in many bipartisan bills to overhaul our immigration system. But Issa decided to lean into deeply racist imagery about who may benefit from it.

Immediately, the ad drew outrage. Republican City Councilman Chris Cate wrote on Twitter: “My feelings about Carl are known…but this is complete horse shit.”

Even Tony Krvaric, the chairman of the Republican Party, called it highly inappropriate.

And then there was Faulconer. The ad could have easily been about him, though he’s not gay. Faulconer was on the San Diego City Council when it, in 2013, unanimously passed a resolution supporting a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants when it seemed Congress may be close to until-then elusive reform of the immigration system.

Faulconer’s team was rattled by the immigration rhetoric, and he issued a statement about the gay-baiting.

“Mayor Faulconer is a long-standing ally of the LGBTQ community. Campaigns should focus on people’s positions on the issues, not people’s sexual orientation,” Faulconer’s office said.

But Faulconer confirmed his endorsement of Issa and said it still stands. Faulconer made an actual vote in support of a (not easy) pathway to citizenship for people who have been here working, living and contributing, and Issa was equating that same vote by DeMaio as supporting heinous, murderous gang members.

Faulconer supports someone who says he — Faulconer — supports murderous gang members. Cool times, we’ve got here.

By Thursday, it had become an actual thing Issa had to address. Jon Horn of 10News asked Issa about the criticism of the ad.

Issa first pretended he didn’t know what Horn was asking but then it clicked.

“I think you’re talking about some headlines in actual newspapers,” he said. He did not apologize.

The race for the 50th was never going to be clean. The last go-around, Hunter issued one of the clearest, most rancid, racist attacks people have ever seen a campaign overtly deploy – and it was fine. The endorsements stuck. Hunter won.

And Issa saw.

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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