To the shock of many Washington insiders, California Republican Rep. Darrel Issa announced Wednesday that he will not be seeking re-election during this year’s midterm elections.
“Two decades ago, when I stepped away from the business I’d built to enter public service, I never could have imagined that a long-shot bid for U.S. Senate would lead to 18 years in the House of Representatives and endless opportunities to make a meaningful impact,” Issa began in his statement, going on to list a string of accomplishments during his time in Congress.
“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.”
Elected in 2000, Issa has gone on to serve for nearly 20 years in the lower chamber of Congress, representing the southern coastal area of California, encompassing parts of San Diego County and Orange County.
During that time, he chaired the powerful House Oversight Committee, leading congressional investigations into high-profile Democrats and earning the scorn of many on the left.
“I will continue advocating on behalf of the causes that are most important to me, advancing public policy where I believe I can make a true and lasting difference,” the longtime Republican lawmaker concluded in his statement.
The Republican congressman did not give a reason for his decision, but many observers believe it is due to his daunting re-election chances.
Issa’s district — along with most of Orange County, California — has long been a GOP stronghold, but the area has turned blue with the entrance of Donald Trump into the political scene.
For example, Issa won re-election in 2014 with over 60 percent of the total vote against his Democratic opponent. Two years prior, amid a good year for national Democrats, Issa still handily won re-election with nearly 59 percent of the vote, according to New York Times election results.
However, 2016 proved a difficult year for California Republicans. In the toughest re-election fight of his career, Issa narrowly defeated Democrat Doug Applegate by less than 2,000 votes out of over 310,000 votes cast.
The clear harbinger in the 2016 election was then-candidate Donald Trump, who is deeply unpopular in California. Despite historically voting for Republican candidates, Orange County favored Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly nine points in the election.
Issa is the second Republican congressman to announce a retirement this week. Rep. Ed Royce revealed Monday that he, too, would not be seeking re-election in his Orange County-based district.
Badly wanting to retake the House majority, national Democrats believe their pathway to victory includes southern California, where Clinton made gains in GOP neighborhoods.
Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer is heading the effort, and already announced he would spend $30 million of his own money to boost a grassroots effort to oust several California Republican congressmen, McClatchy reported.
“This week, we got our first wins with Darrell Issa and Ed Royce stepping down rather than face crushing defeat in November,” Steyer said following Issa’s retirement. Steyer then sent a signal to the remaining GOP lawmakers on his hit list.
“Steve Knight, Jeff Denham, Mimi Walters, David Valadao, Dana Rohrabacher — are you next?”
To be clear, Rep. Royce won his re-election in 2016 by double-digit margins.
Issa, for his part, has indicated he is not retiring from politics altogether and may run for higher office as early as this year.
“He’s not ruling out anything and looks forward to staying engaged in politics as he moves into this new chapter,” spokesman Calvin Moore said, according to McClatchy.
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