Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) announced Wednesday he won’t seek re-election this year, putting an end to his 17-year tenure in the House and making him the second Southern California Republican congressman to bow out this week.
“Throughout my service, I worked hard and never lost sight of the people our government is supposed to serve. Yet with the support of my family, I have decided that I will not seek re-election in California's 49th District,” reads a press release on Issa’s website.
Staff at Issa’s Washington, D.C. office told Voice of OC Wednesday morning they don’t know if he’s going to run for another office or not.
Both the Cook Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, election handicapper websites that rate competitive House, Senate and Gubernatorial races, considered the 49th district a “toss up,” while Issa was a candidate but switched to “leaning Democratic” after he announced he wouldn’t run again.
Issa’s announcement comes two days after 39th District Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) announced Monday he won’t seek re-election. That means two of the four competitive Orange County House races are guaranteed new faces next year. The 39th District now is considered a toss up by the handicapper sites after Royce’s retirement announcement.
Three Republicans quickly announced they will seek Royce’s seat. County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who terms out this year, had planned to run for a county Superior Court judge position but instead will campaign for Royce's seat, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Nelson did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Former Assemblywoman Young Kim and former state Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff also are running for Royce's seat, according to the Orange County Register. Royce has endorsed Kim.
The re-election announcements come as the Democrats are targeting the 39th, 45th, 48th and 49th Congressional Districts in the county. Democrats need to win at least 24 seats across the country to gain control of the House.
Issa’s Wednesday announcement means at least 31 Republicans are retiring from the House this year.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Drew Godnich immediately released a statement following Issa’s announcement. Godinich said the Republicans’ vote on the tax bill and the party’s priorities “are toxic to their re-election chances in 2018.”
“Secretary Clinton won this district by a huge margin in 2016, and the cohort of strong Democratic challengers, unprecedented grassroots activism, and historic investment by the DCCC in Southern California means we are in a strong position to elect a Democrat to the 49th District this fall,” Godinich wrote.
The National Republican Congressional Committee also released an immediate statement by Chairman Steve Stivers, who said Issa’s “retirement is a great loss for the institution and the American people.”
“In the 49th district, Democrats are locked in what is fast becoming one of the bloodiest primaries in America. While Democrats fight with each other, Republicans will focus on fighting Democrats – and that’s how we plan to win. We look forward to facing whoever limps out of the Democrats’ battle royale: black and blue, and broke,” Stivers wrote.
Issa was narrowly re-elected in 2016 by 1,621 votes – a less than one percent margin -- over retired Marine Corps. Col. Doug Applegate. In the 2016 presidential race, the 49th Congressional District, where Issa serves, also voted for Hillary Clinton by seven percentage points.
The district touches the most southern cities in the county, including San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point and San Clemente. The 49th stretches down the west side of San Diego county, ending before La Jolla. The district also houses Camp Pendleton.
According to the voter registration report, Republicans still hold the district at 37 percent, while Democrats are at 31 percent. The no preference voters hold the wildcard at 25 percent. Voter registration data shows an uptick in Democrats since 2012’s 28.57 percent, while Republicans dropped from 40 percent.
Like the other three districts in the county, the 2016 presidential election year saw a huge increase in voter turnout for the primary election in the 49th District. Just over 46 percent of voters turned out, compared to 29 percent in both 2014 and 2012.
As of the most recent reports, Issa had the most money, $852,000 remaining out of the $1.2 million he has raised. He’s followed by Democratic candidate Mike Levin who had $530,000 on hand out of the $918,000 he brought in. Applegate had $263,000 of the $545,000 he took in while Democratic challenger Paul Kerr had $229,000 left from the $504,000 he raised.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.