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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 Convention Center May 27, 2016.
Milan Kovacevic
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
Rep. Darrell Issa To Retire From Congress GUEST: Alison St John, north county reporter, KPBS News

>>> It would have seemed inconceivable two years ago, Congressman Darrell Issa , once chairman of the House oversight committee, retiring? But, politics has changed dramatically in Washington, and across the country, and Congressman Darrell Issa has announced that he will not seek reelection this year. Joining me is KPBS reporter Allison St. John, who is reporting from outside Congressman Darrell Issa's headquarters in Vista. Allison, welcome. >> Yes, good to be here Maureen. >> What is the scene like out there? >> Okay, well it is pretty festive as you can imagine. This is a group of people who have been rallying outside Vista -- Congressman Darrell Issa's Vista office every Tuesday for a year. Ironically, yesterday they rallied and held a mock celebration of Congressman Darrell Issa's retirement. I think they were hoping that he would follow in the footsteps of Ed Rice, who also retired. And it appears that today, their wish has been granted. So, there is a great deal of celebration. There are balloons and cars are coming past and honking. People are hugging. There is a real party atmosphere out here. >> You just interviewed Congressman Darrell Issa last week at KPBS, was there any indication that he was not going to run for reelection? >> Well, you know Maureen, that is what is so surprising. It really look as though the Congressman was setting himself up for a year of perhaps -- taking a more moderate stand than he has in the past on issues. He definitely distance himself from the Trump administration on issues like marijuana enforcement, and potential drilling for oil off the California coastline. You know, he appeared to be starting perhaps to focus more on legislation that would be bipartisan legislation. He had this H1 V Visa bill that he was cosponsoring. So, it really looked as though he was lining up you know, his strategy for a tough fight in the coming year. >> What, if any reason -- >> So surprising. >> What, if any reason has Congressman Darrell Issa given for his decision to retire? >> Well, he did not give a particular reason in his statement. He talked more about his accomplishments and what an honor it had been to serve. And he said that he would continue to fight for issues that he feels are important. He did not give a reason for why he is retiring, and why now. I mean, it is possible that he has been watching what is going on in Washington DC, and thinking this is going to be increasingly difficult to keep the support of my constituents if they news out of Washington DC is constantly irritating Californians. He may have looked at the fact that Tom Stier, who actually was also at one of these rallies a couple of months ago, just on Monday said that he would throw $30 million into defeating Republicans, specifically in the house, and Congressman Darrell Issa was near the top of his list. So, even though Issa is one of the wealthiest men in Congress, and it was well known that he would raise more money than any Democratic candidate, that was a bit of a challenge to him on the financial front. But, it is hard to tell exactly why, and I don't know if we will ever know. >> Congressman Darrell Issa was facing for Democratic challengers, at least one of which is at that rally that you are at now. But, who might be some of the Republicans expected to run for his seat? >> Yes, even just in the few hours since he announced his retirement, few people have -- a few people have thrown their hats in the ring. As far as people we may know -- one of them, we do not know what her reaction is, but her name has been raised -- Kristin Gaspar, who has had a meteoric rise from being the mayor of Encinitas, to becoming the new chair of the San Diego board of supervisors, an extremely powerful position. You know, if she were to leave that, that would [ Laughter ] definitely create a bit of uncertainty around the San Diego County governance. The other name that has been mentioned from San Diego is Rocky Chavez, who is the 76th assembly member. He has actually tried to run for Senate in the past, and has shown a strong personal ambition for higher office. So, we shall see. There are some other names out of Orange County that have also been thrown into the mix. And presumably, quite soon we will see which ones come to the top. Of course, this is a key issue -- will the parties be able to rally behind their chosen candidate soon enough to really be able to get going on this campaign before June comes around, and the top two candidates are picked? >> That is really a difficulty that may face the Democrats as well. >> Well, yes. I mean, these are for candidates, all of them have a lot to be said for them. None of them have held elected office, so they do not have a lot of record to run on. What Doug Applegate, who is the man who very narrowly lost to Issa in November 2020 -- 2016. Actually one in San Diego, but he lost overall. He said that he feels like it is key that the Democratic Party rallies behind one candidate in the next 60 days. So that they really have a chance to make a strong showing in June, and then in November. And of course, at this rate, it is a possibility that two Democrats may come out on top in June, and be facing off for November, if the Republicans don't get a strong candidate and get their act together in time. >> And finally Allison, it sounds as if it is reaching a peak in the rally out there. People always talk about the power of incumbency, does this mean that it will be more difficult for Republicans to hold onto the seat? >> I would say that there were some disadvantages that Issa was facing. He has a pretty strong record, that has raised the ire of many Democrats. >> Yes. >>'s investigations -- his investigations of Benghazi for example, so there was quite a bit of animosity towards them personally, which may not hold with any new candidate, but in terms of money, and name recognition, it is going to be very hard I think for a new candidate to jump into this race, and really pick up where he left off. >> I have been speaking with Allison Saint John, thank you so much. >> Thank you, Maureen. [ Music ]

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.

Rep. Darrell Issa To Retire From Congress

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.

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

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