Seven candidates compete for 49th Congressional District in North County

Six of seven candidates for the 49th Congressional District.
Six of seven candidates for the 49th Congressional District. Clockwise from top left are Renee Taylor, Nadia B. Smalley, Christoper Rodriguez, Lisa Bartlett, Mike Levin and Brian Maryott. Not pictured is Josiah O’Neil.

The potential swing district, represented by Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, may be the tightest race in San Diego


Seven candidates, including three well-established Republicans, are challenging Rep. Mike Levin for the 49th Congressional District in the June 7 primary election.

Levin, a Democrat running for re-election to a third term, faces Republican challengers that include his former opponent Brian Maryott, Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and Oceanside City Councilmember Chris Rodriguez. Two other Republicans, Renee Taylor and Josiah O’Neil, as well as Democrat Nadia Smalley, are also running for the seat.

The district was recently redrawn through the state redistricting effort, and comprises parts of coastal North County and Orange County, from Del Mar to Dana Point, including Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. It previously included some communities in the city of San Diego, including parts of La Jolla, but the redistricting commission swapped those for the Orange County city of Laguna Nigel. The congressional term is two years and pays $174,000 per year.

With just over 36 percent of voters registered as Democrats compared to 33.6 percent registered as Republicans, according to the California Secretary of State, it’s a potential swing district that political observers are watching closely. The Cook Political Report, a national newsletter that analyzes elections, rates the district as “likely Democratic,” meaning that the seat isn’t competitive now, but could become so as the race tightens.

“Where the political winds seem to be blowing, this absolutely could be a close race,” said Thad Kousser, the chair of political science at UC San Diego.

Levin has stayed out of national ideological battles, concentrating on local issues including veterans’ affairs, decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and improving infrastructure. If he can keep voters focused on that, he should do fine, Kousser said. But with gas prices, inflation and international conflicts dragging down President Joe Biden’s approval ratings, Republican challengers may find avenues to attack Levin’s Democratic affiliation, he said.

“I think if he makes this a race about his record, he stands a great shot,” Kousser said. “If this is a race about Joe Biden, he’s in trouble.”

Several of his challengers have made it clear they consider the race a direct challenge to Biden’s policies.

“I’m running for Congress because our country is on the wrong track,” Maryott said, citing crime, cross-border drug trafficking, inflation and national debt as issues he attributes to Democratic leadership. “Joe Biden has shown that he is not capable of navigating the many crises impacting our lives.”

Maryott is hoping that discontent with Democrats will give him a second shot at the district, which he lost to Levin by about six percentage points in 2020.

Levin, 43, has served in Congress since 2019, and previously worked as an attorney on environmental and energy regulatory compliance and government affairs. He previously served on the board of the San Diego-based Center for Sustainable Energy and co-founded CleanTech OC in Orange County. Levin lives in San Juan Capistrano, and was born and raised in South Orange County.

Levin said his experience in environmental law has helped him advance climate action legislation. He also co-founded a bipartisan caucus to develop disposal systems for spent nuclear fuel and secured federal funding to deal with coastal erosion and clean up pollution in the Tijuana River Valley. Levin has the endorsement of the Democratic Party of San Diego.

“I’m a passionate believer in clean energy and have over a decade of experience in the industry, helping to accelerate the transition towards more sustainable power generation and transportation options,” Levin said.

His key goals in Congress, Levin said, are “combating climate change and growing our clean energy economy, strengthening benefits and services for veterans and their families, and safely removing the nuclear waste from San Onofre.”

Maryott, 59, is a resident and former mayor of San Juan Capistrano, who has lived in Southern California for 25 years. With a background as a certified financial planner, he frames his campaign as an effort to improve fiscal management of the U.S. government. He has been endorsed by the Republican Party of San Diego in the rematch.

“With inflation rising and our economic futures becoming more uncertain, we need more financial planners in Congress who have seen the damage that bad financial decision-making in Washington has on everyday Americans,” Maryott said.

His top priorities include “getting a sustainable economy back on track, ending the humanitarian crisis at the border, and enacting term limits so that no one can spend their entire life in Congress.”

Bartlett, 62, was born and raised in Southern California and is the first Japanese American to serve as an Orange County supervisor. She has held that seat since 2014 and served as mayor of Dana Point from 2009 to 2014. Bartlett previously worked in real estate and finance and said her business background prepared her for a wide range of public challenges.

“As a county supervisor and mayor, I have always put public safety first, opposed tax increases, and worked to fix government woes with common sense solutions,” she said. “We implemented solutions to address homelessness, built a best-in-class innovative behavioral health hub, ensured small businesses received resources to survive draconian lockdowns, invested in clean air initiatives to protect our coastline, working to safely decommission the San Onofre Nuclear Powerplant, and made government more efficient, accountable, and transparent.”

Bartlett said if elected she would focus on “curbing inflation, restoring economic prosperity, strengthening public safety, fixing our broken education system, securing the border, and protecting our beautiful coastline and environment.”

Rodriguez, 37, has served on the Oceanside City Council since 2018. He owns a real estate firm and family farm. Rodriguez came to Oceanside as a Marine Corps recruit at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and served two combat tours in Iraq.

“I have fought for our community serving as an Oceanside City Council member where I have pushed for lower taxes, job creation and common-sense solutions to fix the homeless crisis plaguing California cities,” he said.

Rodriguez said his priorities for Congress would be “Inflation. Education. Law and Order.” He highlighted several issues that have been national rallying cries for conservatives, stating that he opposes increased government spending, “defund the police efforts” and what Republicans call “critical race theory” curriculum in schools.

“I believe parents should be in control of their child’s education, and they should be empowered to remove their children from failing schools,” Rodriguez said.

Democrat Nadia Smalley, 51, is a Vista resident who said she has lived in North County since 2018 and has worked as a traveling hospice nurse, blues singer and business owner.

“As a north San Diego county traveling hospice nurse, I took on emotionally challenging end-of-life assignments; this has given me the privilege of working with a large part of our community and I believe being involved in the community qualifies me for this position,” Smalley said.

She said her goals would be “to eradicate homelessness, local business development and public sanitation measures for pandemic strategies.”

Republican candidate Renee Taylor, of San Juan Capistrano, said she is a member of the Air National Guard and worked in a civilian career focusing on information technology and cybersecurity management. She said her military career has included serving as an H F-16 crew chief, in combat communications, on special duty assignment at the Pentagon, as ambassador on cyber defense to Ukraine through NATO, and leading teams in joint, multi-national exercises.

She said her priorities include addressing housing and homelessness, secure borders, military and veterans issues and aging and the elderly.

“For nearly 24 years, I have been a servant leader, and have always envisioned myself as a national leader,” Taylor said, adding that when her military career ended, “I decided there was no time like the present to pursue the priorities — military and veterans, aging and the elderly, housing, and national security initiatives — that have been on my radar for many years.”

Another Republican candidate, Josiah O’Neil, did not respond to questions from The San Diego Union Tribune. O’Neil’s campaign website describes him as an Army veteran who served as a combat medic and then as a police officer, deputy sheriff and special agent of the U.S. Department of State.

Members of the president’s party often face difficult re-election prospects in midterm elections, and this year’s races could be particularly tough for Democratic incumbents, analysts say. Levin has focused on his district and avoided wading into national controversies, Kousser said, which may position him better than other Democrats in swing districts.

“I think he wants to make all politics local in this race,” Kousser said. “He wants to make it about him and what he’s done for the district: not about culture wars, not about the Squad.”

The seven candidates will compete in the primary election on June 7, and the top two vote-getters will go on to the general election in November.