VISTA, Calif. (CN) – U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, announced his retirement Wednesday morning, adding to a growing list of Republicans who plan to step down rather than face potential defeat in the 2018 midterm elections.
“I am forever grateful to the people of San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties for their support and affording me the honor of serving them all these years,” Issa said in a statement Wednesday morning.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers called Issa’s plans to step away from his seat “a great loss for the institution and the American people.”
“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 in a statement.
In 2016, Issa narrowly won his re-election bid against Democrat Doug Applegate, a retired Marine colonel who has said he will run again this year. Only 1,621 votes separated the two in 2016.
Issa, 64, began serving in Congress in 2001. His district includes portions of San Diego County, Oceanside, Vista, Carlsbad, and Encinitas. He is also chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
Earlier this week, Issa’s colleague Rep. Ed Royce – also a Republican – announced his retirement, freeing up another seat that could flip to Democrats in 2018.
Issa’s retirement comes after protesters vowing to “Flip the 49th” spent every Tuesday since Trump was elected protesting at the congressman’s Vista office.
Ellen Montanari, one of the initial organizers of the weekly protests that began with a handful of people and have swelled to include more than 800 attendees, said she was “flabbergasted” by Issa’s retirement news Wednesday.
At Tuesday’s protest, members of Indivisible San Diego and other activists threw the congressman an “early retirement” party complete with banners and a homemade cake in the shape of a Hawaiian shirt. The activists had no idea Issa would announce he was retiring hours later.
“This shows me that our efforts have really worked. People are paying attention. He [Issa] can make whatever statements he wants about retiring, but he saw the handwriting on the wall and he was not going to win this election,” Montanari said.
While activists plan to convene at Issa’s office Wednesday to celebrate, Montanari said they will still watch Issa’s voting record in 2018 as “he has potential to do damage.”
“Our work is still to flip the 49th. In order to stop the current president, we have to flip the House; that’s where my efforts will be,” Montanari said.
Whether Issa’s seat flips remains to be seen: although Hillary Clinton carried the district in the 2016 presidential elections, Inside Elections on Wednesday called the race for Issa’s seat a toss-up.
While Issa’s ninth term will be his last, the Associated Press notes he left his mark by dogging then-President Barack Obama with probes into the 2012 killings of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, and Internal Revenue Service audits of conservative groups.
Issa is one of the wealthiest members of Congress with an estimated fortune of more than $250 million.