The Buzz is the Register’s weekly political news column.
Democrat Doug Applegate was key to erasing the long-standing consensus that local Republican Congress members could not be unseated, thanks to his near upset last year of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, in a district that straddles the Orange-San Diego county line.
Defying prognosticators, the lawyer and retired Marine colonel came within 1,621 votes of winning in the nation’s closest House race of the year. That virtual-breakthrough — combined with Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump in the four Orange County congressional districts held by Republicans — has convinced Democrats they have a shot at capturing all four seats next year.
But the Democratic seas have not parted for Applegate.
National and local Democrats have not united behind him. Instead, three well-funded Democrats are convinced they are better candidates than Applegate and have jumped into the race.
While the San Clemente resident can boast backing from a variety of labor groups and local and state officials, the five current Democratic Congress members to endorse anybody have, so far, picked other candidates. So has the National Organization of Women.
But despite the money and endorsements of his fellow Democrats, Applegate is dismissive of their qualifications and chances.
“They don’t know the (49th) district,” the 63-year-old said in a phone interview. “They’re all fine people but I think they’re mismatched for beating Darrell Issa in this district.”
That characterization would be disputed by those candidates — environmental attorney Mike Levin of San Juan Capistrano, real estate investor Paul Kerr of Rancho Santa Fe and former State Department contract employee Sara Jacobs of Encinitas.
But Applegate points out 36-year history living and working in the district on both sides of the county line, including a stint at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. He says the $5 million or so spent on his behalf in last year’s election — by his own campaign, by Democrats and by other allied interests — have supplied him a big head start in name recognition this time around.
Additionally, the Democratic endorsements banked by his opponents will mean little after the primary, when a single Democrat will face off against Issa, he notes. And while Kerr spent three years in the Navy as a young man, Applegate says his experience in the Marines — 10 years active duty followed by 22 years in the reserves —…