Seven Republican candidates suddenly announced their candidacy for U.S. House seats after two longtime California GOP congressmen announced they will not seek reelection this week.
Both Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) of north Orange County’s 39th District and Darrell Issa (R-Vista) of the south county’s 49th District said they will not run again, putting an end to their tenures in the House after 2018. The Democrats have targeted the two districts, along with the 45th and 48th in an effort to secure at least 24 seats across the country to gain control of the House.
No Republican candidates were running for the two House seats until this week.
Issa’s Wednesday announcement means at least 31 House Republicans are either retiring or running for a different office.
39th District Republican Candidates
Fullerton’s former GOP Assemblywoman Young Kim has announced her bid for the district. Although she served one-term in the state legislature, she was a longtime aid to Royce and became his director of community operations.
After her 25-year career with Royce, Kim became the first Korean-American Republican woman elected to the Assembly. She’s already garnered endorsements from Royce and Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine). She will be going up against two other well-known GOP candidates heading into the June 5 primaries, where the top two vote-getters –regardless of political party — will move on to November’s general election.
Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who terms out at the end of this year, will run for Royce’s seat. His campaign consultant John Thomas told the Los Angeles Times Nelson will shut down a committee he opened to run for an Orange County Superior Court judge in order to seek the House seat.
48th District Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) endorsed Nelson for the Royce’s seat Friday evening, according to a press release from Nelson spokesperson Jennilee Brown.
“I’m pleased to endorse Supervisor Nelson’s candidacy for U.S. Congress. I trust Nelson to bring a strong Conservative agenda to support every hard-working American,” Rohrabacher said in the press release. “He won’t back down on important issues like illegal immigration, states’ rights and civil liberties.”
In the release, Nelson said, “I fully intend to build on this momentum in the next days as the Conservative leader you can trust to keep this seat red. I was raised in Orange County and grew up here in the 39th District. I would be honored to serve its people in Washington.”
Nelson, a lawyer, served eight years on the Fullerton City Council from 2002 to 2010, just before his election to the Board of Supervisors. He served as mayor twice and mayor pro tem once. This year he is vice chair of the Board of Supervisors.
Former state Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff also is running for Royce’s seat, according to the Orange County Register. Huff served in the state Senate from 2008 to 2016 and was minority leader from 2012 to 2016.
Additionally, La Mirada Councilman Andrew Sarega has said he will run for the 39th District, according to the OC Register.
“Republicans are fired up and ready to hold this seat. Orange County has no shortage of Republican talent and a highly organized ground effort with the NRCC at the forefront. We have just one message for Democrats who think they can compete for this seat: bring it on,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers wrote in a press release after Royce announced his retirement.
Orange County GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker didn’t return calls seeking comment on the races.
The 39th district consists of the most northern portion of Orange County from parts of Buena Park, Placentia and Anaheim Hills and contains all of Yorba Linda, Brea, La Habra and Fullerton while reaching north to portions of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. The largest block of voters, 225,000, are in Orange County.
Royce had no problem winning reelection in 2016 when he easily beat Democrat Brett Murdock by a margin of nearly 15 percentage points, or 38,000 votes.
Although Royce has historically enjoyed landslide victories, Republican voter registration numbers in the 39th district have been steadily slipping to the Democrats. In 2012, Republicans enjoyed nearly eight percentage points over Democrats in the district. Today, Republicans are ahead by about two percentage points at 36 percent, according to the latest available statewide voter registration report from the Secretary of state.
However, among the district’s OC voter block, Republicans have just under 40 percent of voters, Democrats hold 33 percent and no preference voters are at 23 percent.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the district by nearly 9 percentage points. She won the Orange County portion of the 39th by nearly 5,000 votes.
The 39th Congressional District was leaning Republican, making it a competitive race, according to the Cook Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball — organizations that rate Congressional and Gubernatorial races. After Royce’s Jan. 8 announcement that he wouldn’t seek re-election, the Cook Report reclassified the district as “leaning Democrat” while the Crystal Ball labeled it a “toss up.”
49th District Republican Candidates
Diane Harkey, chairwoman of the state Board of Equalization, announced her bid for the 49th District seat. She was elected to the board’s fourth district in 2014. Before that, Harkey served in the state Assembly from 2008 to 2014. She began her political career in 2004 when she was elected to the Dana Point City Council.
Harkey faces another big Republican name in the district: Assemblyman Rocky Chavez.
Chavez, a retired Marine Corps. colonel, was first elected to the Assembly in 2012. His run at the House seat isn’t his first venture into an election for a national seat. He briefly ran for the U.S. Senate seat that was being vacated by Barbara Boxer in 2016, but Chavez withdrew from the race in early 2016.
Political newcomer Joshua Schoonover also is launching a bid for the House seat. He’s the only Republican candidate to file candidacy paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission in either the 39th or 49th district as of Wednesday night. Schoonover, a patent attorney, hasn’t held political office before.
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.
Additionally, The Hill reports Issa is considering running for the 50th congressional district, where Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) serves. Hunter’s district is mostly within San Diego County and stretches partially into Riverside County. According to The Hill, Issa will have an easier time winning there because the district voted for President Donald Trump by a margin of 15 points.
The FBI has been investigating Hunter’s previous campaign spending and a federal grand jury recently issued a subpoena to a business in the 50th district, where Hunter’s campaign spent thousands of dollars in 2012 and 2014, reports the San Diego Union Tribune.
Issa’s 49th 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.
Both the Cook Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, 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.
The Crystal Ball lists the 50th district as safe for Republicans while the Cook Report lists it as likely Republican.
According to the voter registration report, Republicans still hold Issa’s 49th district with 37 percent of the voters, while Democrats are at 31 percent. The no preference voters are 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.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.