Staff Writer Jax Gay
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) announced Wednesday that he will not seek reelection this year, increasing Democrats’ chances of flipping his swing district in their favor.
Issa barely won reelection in 2016 by just over half a percentage point in a San Diego-area district that went for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by about 7 points.
“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,” Issa said in a statement.
The former House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman faced a tough path to reelection in an increasingly Democratic district. The lack of a 17-year incumbent will now make it easier for Democrats to win the district as they seek to win back the House this year.
Issa’s retirement offers yet another boon to House Democrats in California.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who also represents a district won by Clinton, announced on Monday that he won’t seek reelection this year either.
Royce won reelection by 14 points even though Clinton carried his district by nearly 9 points, compared to Issa’s razor-thin margin.
“California Republicans clearly see the writing on the wall and realize that their party and its priorities are toxic to their reelection chances in 2018,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spokesman Drew Godinich.
The DCCC assigned staffers last year to work out of an office in Orange County to target western GOP incumbents as part of an effort to make inroads in what have long been traditional Republican strongholds.
Democrats need to flip 24 seats to win back the House majority.
Issa’s retirement is another data point in the signs of a possible Democratic wave in this year’s midterm elections.
His departure means House Republicans will have to defend at least 31 open seats this year due to retirements, resignations and lawmakers seeking other office. By contrast, House Democrats will only have 15 open seats so far.
Eight House GOP committee chairmen have decided to call it quits this election cycle, including three in the past week: Royce, House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.).
Royce and Shuster, along with Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), were all bound by GOP rules limiting chairmen to three consecutive two-year terms.
Issa’s four years as Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman were, at times, rocky.
He frequently clashed with Democrats on the committee as he pursued holding then-Attorney General Eric Holder and former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress over a gun-tracking program and alleged scrutiny of conservative groups, respectively.
Issa was also one of the wealthiest members of Congress due to his prior career leading an automobile security device business.
Without Issa on the ballot, the primary to nominate candidates for the district this year could be messy.
Under California’s primary system, the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party. That means the general election could feature a race between two Democrats if a Republican fails to get as many votes.
At least four Democrats are running for the seat. They include retired Marine Col. Doug Applegate, who challenged Issa in 2016; Sara Jacobs, a former State Department and United Nations aide who has been endorsed by EMILY’s List; Navy veteran Paul Kerr; and environmental attorney Mike Levin.
But National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) predicted that the primary would be nastiest on the Democratic side.
"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 said.