AP: Issa finally wins House race

It took three weeks to confirm it, thanks to California’s excruciatingly slow ballot counts, but Darrell Issa will return to Congress in January. Democrats had targeted his seat in order to push out one of the most conservative Republicans in the House, and to send a message to Barack Obama’s critics. Instead, Issa managed to eke out a narrow win over Doug Applegate in the toughest race of his career.

Note, though, the way the Associated Press leads this story as it calls the race for Issa:

The wealthiest member of Congress is keeping his job.

Republican Darrell Issa narrowly defeated Marine-turned-lawyer Doug Applegate after a bitter contest in in the 49th District north of San Diego.

Unofficial returns Monday showed Issa holding a 2,348-vote edge, with only a small number of votes left to tally. Vote-counting extended for weeks after the election as officials tallied late-arriving mail ballots and those filled out at polling places.

That’s the big takeaway — that Issa’s the wealthiest House member? Yes, I’m sure that’s why Nancy Pelosi had Democrats target him. She’s worth an estimated $100 million, a figure that has grown rapidly over the last few years. How many leads from the AP on Pelosi stories start off with that factoid? Or how about Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), whose net worth on this list outstrips Issa’s?

That aside, Issa had better be prepared for tough races in the future. The current Cook Partisan Voting Index rating for CA-49 is R+4, but a growing Hispanic community in San Diego’s northern coastal region will keep presenting more challenges. In his previous four runs, Issa never scored below 58% of the general-election vote. This time he barely got a majority in the state’s single-pool primary over Applegate and independent Ryan Glenn Wingo, which presaged this close general-election outcome.

Applegate has yet to concede the race. He could ask for a recount, but the 2,348 vote gap is too large for a recount to overcome. Besides, it took California this long to do the actual count — how much longer would a recount take? It’s more likely that Applegate will use his resources for another run at Issa, but the midterm turnout model should give the Republican incumbent a slightly easier run in two years. After that, the future looks murkier in this leans-GOP district.