Carl DeMaio on KOGO
Carl DeMaio recording his political talk show on KOGO Radio. Courtesy KOGO

Radio host Carl DeMaio says he’s asking listeners to his talk show Friday afternoon to weigh in — on him and his political future.

In a press release with “major announcement” in the subject line, the 44-year-old former San Diego City Council member says he’ll reveal Monday in Escondido whether he’s making another run for Congress.

DeMaio lost to Democratic incumbent Scott Peters in 2014, and briefly flirted with a race against Rep. Duncan D. Hunter in 2018 — pulling nominating papers for a 50th District contest.

“To take back our state, we need a new generation of California leaders who are willing to fight and have a record of getting reform done,” DeMaio said in a statement Friday. “The old guard of California Republican leaders have shown they aren’t willing or able to lead the fight to take back our state from the Democrats – or worse, like Mr. Hunter, they are tied up in court facing criminal charges.”

He continued: “Can I best help lead the fight by winning this U.S. congressional seat or by remaining on the airwaves and chairing Reform California?”

If he joins the race, he’ll be the fifth GOP challenger to Republican Hunter — after former Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, Temecula Mayor Matt Rahn, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells and former Navy SEAL Larry Wilske. Former Rep. Darrell Issa, who gave up his 49th District seat this year, also is reportedly interested in the 50th.

Ammar Campa-Najjar, who lost to Hunter by fewer than 4 points in 2018, is the only Democrat announced so far.

“More than half a dozen Republicans are eyeing Hunter’s seat,” he said. “Who faces me is an internal battle Republican elites will have to figure out among themselves. I’m personally focused on voters — they’re the only people I answer to.”

DeMaio said in his press release: “I’m grateful to all who have reached out to me with their input and words of encouragement on this important question, and I’ll explain my decision Monday.”

A press release on DeMaio’s behalf came from former San Diegan and now Washington-based Dave McCulloch of Capitol Media Partners:

Hunter’s criminal trial begins September 10. If Hunter vacates his seat or is removed from it, a Special Election Primary would be held within 70-85 days. Political analysts say DeMaio has the universal name ID and fundraising base needed to be competitive for the GOP under such a short timeframe scenario.

At the same time, DeMaio does not need to run for Congress to advance policy ideas as he currently hosts the popular DeMaio Report weekdays 3-6pm on NewsRadio 600 KOGO and serves as Chairman of Reform California.

DeMaio’s entry into the race would help lock down the 50th Congressional District seat for the GOP; his exit from the race could open the path for other candidates waiting in the wings.

A spokesman for Hunter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Besides falling in 2014, DeMaio lost a 2012 mayoral run to Bob Filner. DeMaio lives in the Rancho Bernardo area — outside Hunter’s district. But he’s allowed to run if he lives anywhere in the state.

Longtime San Diego politics-watcher Carl Luna said DeMaio hoped for a political comeback last November with his end-the-gas-tax referendum — Proposition 6 — “which he thought could vault him to becoming the most prominent Republican in the state and open the door to other state or congressional offices.”

But that effort lost by more than 13 percentage points.

“Running for the 50th gives him the opportunity to complete his quest to return from the political wilderness,” said Luna, political science professor at San Diego Mesa College.

“He’d have to give up his talk radio gig, but that would be trading money for power and power almost always wins for those with political ambition.”

Luna asked: “Ever notice in San Diego Democrats who lose elections end up in nonprofits somewhere and Democrats who are disgraced disappear from the scenes? San Diego Republicans who lose or are disgraced often end up on talk Radio.” He noted former Mayor Roger Hedgecock.

DeMaio still has “political mileage” in him, Luna told Times of San Diego via email, and “spending the next 20 years to retirement on talk radio can’t have the appeal of walking the halls of Congress.”

Luna says DeMaio has great name recognition, particularly with the more conservative wing of the GOP who make up a big part of Hunter’s East County voting base.

But the downsides are numerous, Luna said.

“First, a successful run is premised on Hunter not being on the ballot,” he said. “While this is likely given Hunter’s legal (political/ethical/moral/criminal) problems, until he vacates the seat a successful challenger displacing him … is still problematic.”

Second, four other Republicans would be on the ballot, which could fracture the GOP vote and give DeMaio challenge.

“Third, DeMaio is DeMaio — he lost the mayor’s race and lost on the gas tax. Unless you’re Richard Nixon, being a double loser usually means game over,” Luna said. “But then again, there’s always been something vaguely Nixonian about DeMaio, so don’t count him out. Congressman DeMaio is not that much of a long shot.”

How often do candidates preview a “major announcement” and not run?

“It does seem unlikely to make a major announcement not to do something,” Luna said. “I think DeMaio will be testing the waters with his announcement Monday and then plunge fully in based on the response.”

Updated at 12:20 p.m. Aug. 2, 2019