Republican retirements mount as Rep. Darrell Issa steps aside

WASHINGTON — Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., one of the most prominent and endangered Republicans in Congress, has decided not to run for reelection in November, becoming the latest in a string of vulnerable GOP incumbents to retire ahead of midterm elections expected to favor Democrats.
Issa, who made a national name for himself as an Obama administration antagonist while leading a House investigative committee, will not seek a 10th term.
“Throughout my service, I worked hard and never lost sight of the people our government is supposed to serve,” Issa said in a statement. “Yet with the support of my family, I have decided that I will not seek re-election in California’s 49th District.”
With many observers expecting a Democratic wave in November, some vulnerable Republicans are rushing to get out of the way.
On Tuesday, another Southern California Republican, Rep. Ed Royce, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, announced he too would not run for reelection, and Republicans worry more are coming soon.
“Right now, Republicans need to be careful that this doesn’t turn into tsunami of retirements,” former GOP Virginia Rep. Tom Davis told NBC News. “This should be a wake up call to leaders.”
Nine months out from the election, more Republican incumbents have already said they will retire this year (18) than the total number of Democrats who did so ahead of the 2010 midterm elections (11), which swept Republicans into power, according to a former Democratic campaign official.
“California Republicans clearly see the writing on the wall and realize that their party and its priorities are toxic to their re-election chances in 2018,” said Drew Godinich, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Republicans, unlike Democrats, cap the amount of time members can spend as chairmen of congressional committee. For senior members like Royce, whose tenure leading the Foreign Affairs committee was coming to an end, losing the gavel may be enough to convince them to leave Washington.
But the retirements are also a sign Republicans are not too confident about being in the majority next year.
Democrats need to win 24 seats to flip the House and the president’s party has lost an average of 32 in every midterm election since before the Civil War. In just two extreme instances – during the Great Depression and shortly after September 11 – has the president’s party picked up seats.
Overall, 37 House Republicans who started in the 115th Congress won’t be on the ballot for the 116th, including many who are seeking election to other office or who retired in scandal. That number stands at just 16 for Democrats.
Issa, who is the wealthiest member of Congress, was nearly unseated in 2016 when Democrat Doug Applegate came within fewer than 2,000 votes of Issa. Applegate quickly declared he would mount a re-match in in 2018, but two other well-financed Democrats have also jumped into the race.
Republicans vowed to defend the seat, hoping a divisive Democratic primary will makeup for the headwind they face. “We look forward to facing whoever limps out of the Democrats’ battle royale: black and blue, and broke,” Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement.
Republicans’ defenses are already spread thin as Democrats target a whopping 91 districts and both Issa and Royce’s seat are in major media markets, making them expensive places to run campaigns.
Both were entrenched incumbents with millions in the bank and the potential to raise more, so supporting fresh candidates will be tougher.
Hillary Clinton won Issa’s district in 2016 by over seven percentage points against Donald Trump even though Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama there by a similar margin in 2012.
Orange County was once a fabled Republican stronghold, but Clinton became the first Democrat to win the affluent area since the Great Depression as it veered away from Trump.
Democrats saw an opportunity early and invested in organizers to target Issa and neighboring Republican incumbents, and hundreds of liberal activists have turned out regular rallies outside his office.
Just a day before Issa’s announcement, the local chapter of the liberal group Indivisible even held a mock retirement party for the incumbent.