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Rep. Darrell Issa To Retire From Congress

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, attends a Donald Trump rally at the San Diego Con...

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, attends a Donald Trump rally at the San Diego Convention Center May 27, 2016.

Rep. Darrell Issa To Retire From Congress

GUEST:

Alison St John, north county reporter, KPBS News

Transcript

Rep. Darrell Issa of California announced Wednesday that he will not seek re-election, the latest sign that Republicans could face another grim year at the ballot box in the nation's most populous state.

With his decision to step aside after nine terms, Issa joins a string of GOP lawmakers who are retiring rather than take on what would be a difficult re-election battle.

The risks for Republicans are especially acute in California, where the party has been fading away for years. Democrats hold every statewide office and control both chambers of the Legislature by hefty margins. In the 2016 presidential election, Democrat Hillary Clinton crushed Republican Donald Trump in the state by more than 4 million votes.

Nicholas Mcvicker,

Democrats with plans to retake control of the House hope to oust a handful of California Republicans whose districts Clinton carried. Issa's seat, the coastal 49th District, is among them.

A central battleground will be Orange County, a one-time Republican fortress that was home to President Richard Nixon. Democrats think they can flip control of as many as four House seats. Issa's district cuts through San Diego and Orange counties.

In San Clemente, a hillside city overlooking the Pacific Ocean that was home to Nixon's Western White House, voters greeted Issa's announcement with sadness or relief, reflecting the closely divided politics of the district.

"That's like a Christmas present," said Donna Martin, a retired community college teacher and registered Democrat.

Photo by Alison St John

Demonstrators rally outside the office of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, to celebrate his retirement, Jan. 10, 2018.

But Tanya Johnson, also a retired teacher, said she would be disappointed to see Issa leave, crediting him with keeping an open door for constituents. She recalled sending Issa an email expressing her concerns about the recent federal tax overhaul, and Issa responded. He voted against the proposal, saying residents in his district could see higher taxes.

"I really believe he ... cared," said Johnson, a Republican.

Democrats had made defeating Issa one of their top priorities for 2018.

The risks were obvious for the incumbent. Issa survived by about 1,600 votes in his last election and Democratic challengers have lined up to take him on in a midterm election that generally favors the party not in control of the White House.

Moreover, his ties to Trump in a state where the president is unpopular would almost certainly increase his vulnerability.

Republicans account for only 1 in 4 voters in the state, while Democrats count a 3.7 million edge in voter registrations. The last Republican presidential candidate to carry the state was George H.W. Bush, in 1988.

A surge in immigrants transformed California and its voting patterns. The number of Hispanics, blacks and Asians combined has outnumbered whites since 1998. Meanwhile, the state's new voters, largely Latinos and Asians, tend to vote Democratic.

Issa's announcement followed that of Rep. Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who announced Tuesday that he would not seek a 14th term.

National Republicans said they weren't giving up on retaining the two California seats. GOP officials said the party has solid recruits in both races. They're also holding out hope that so many Democrats are running in each race, that it will enhance the GOP's prospects.

Under California's election rules, known as the "jungle primary," the two candidates who advance to a November runoff are the top vote-getters regardless of party.

"With the jungle primary, they will cannibalize each other's votes and make it easier for a Republican to get to the general election," said Rep. Steve Stivers, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Then we just have to win the general election."

But Democrats were gleeful over the retirements and what it could mean in reaching the 24 GOP-held seats they need to win in order to take control of the House.

"We'll keep a watchful eye on both of these congressional districts to see which Republicans come forward, but in the end, these retirements do not bode well for our Republican colleagues" said Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., and chairman of the campaign arm of the Democrats in the House.

RELATED: Campaign To Flip The 49th Congressional District Off To An Early Start

In a statement, Issa said he plans to continue to advocate "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, and continuing the fight to make our incredible nation an even better place to call home."

Read his statement below:

Photo credit: Rep. Darrell Issa

A statement from Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Vista, announcing his retirement is shown in this image, Jan. 10, 2017.

Toni Krvaric, chair of the local San Diego Republican Party issued a tweet calling Issa's retirement "an institutional loss for the House of Representatives and our region."

"With a lot of Republican talent in North County and South Orange County," Krvaric tweeted, "I have no doubt several well qualified candidates will emerge."

Democratic candidate Mike Levin of Orange County was the first to respond with a tweet:"We showed Darrell Issa the door! Help chip in RIGHT NOW to help us win this must-win seat!"

Issa's other three Democratic challengers are Doug Applegate,who nearly defeated Isssa in November 2016, Paul Kerr and Sara Jacobs.

Ellen Montanari of the group Indivisible, that has rallied outside Issa's Vista office every Tuesday morning for the last year, said a rally is planned today at noon to celebrate his retirement. Yesterday the rally held a mock celebration of Issa's retirement, before the congressman issued his statement this morning.

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