WASHINGTON — Representative Darrell Issa, whose hard-edge partisan attacks on President Barack Obama began softening as his district trended toward the Democrats, said on Wednesday that he would not seek re-election — the latest and one of the most prominent Republican retirements in the face of a potential Democratic wave.
Mr. Issa, 64, who has represented an idyllic stretch of Southern California coast since 2001, won re-election in 2016 by just 1,600 votes out or more than 300,000 cast, while Hillary Clinton carried it by more than seven percentage points.
Mr. Issa had indicated that he was preparing to defend the seat, despite agreement by outside analysts and campaign operatives in both parties that it would have been one of the most competitive races in the country.
But on Wednesday, he called it quits.
“Throughout my service, I worked hard and never lost sight of the people our government is supposed to serve,” Mr. Issa said Wednesday. “Yet with the support of my family, I have decided that I will not seek re-election in California’s 49th District.”
The exodus of G.O.P. House members has lifted the Democrats’ hopes of regaining the majority.
A field of four Democrats had been competing to take on Mr. Issa, including Doug Applegate, a retired Marine colonel who served in Iraq and almost defeated him in 2016; a former Obama administration official; and a real estate investor.
Mr. Issa had roughly $850,000 in his campaign coffers at the end of September, according to the most recent public filing available.
But his bare-knuckle partisanship had begun to wear on a district that is affluent and increasingly moderate. As chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Mr. Issa routinely ripped into Mr. Obama, his aides and his cabinet, as well as their handling of a gunrunning investigation known as Fast and Furious, the Internal Revenue Service’s slow-walking of political groups’ applications for nonprofit status, the terrorist attack on an American government compound in Benghazi, Libya, and many other matters.
Without Mr. Issa on the ballot, Democrats boasted on Wednesday that they were well positioned to turn the seat blue.
“After passing a devastating tax scam and fighting to rip away health care from millions of families, 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 spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio, the chairman of the Republican campaign arm, predicted that a contentious Democratic primary would leave the eventual nominee “black and blue, and broke” and benefit the Republicans. A person familiar with the Republican effort to replace Mr. Issa said there was an expectation that several Republicans could enter the race, including Diane Harkey, a member of the California Board of Equalization, and Rocky Chavez, a member of the State Assembly.
The founder of a successful car-alarm company, Mr. Issa is one of Congress’s wealthiest members. But he became best known in Washington for turning the Oversight Committee into something like an Inquisition. He appeared to relish the role.
Since leaving the post several years ago, though, he has moved toward less contentious issues. In a bizarre turn, facing a difficult re-election in 2016, Mr. Issa came to embrace Mr. Obama — a development the then-president called “the definition of chutzpah.”
Just last month, Mr. Issa was one of only a few Republicans who voted against the party’s tax plan, doing so, he said, out of concern that the bill’s changes to popular individual tax deductions would hurt his district.
Mr. Issa’s announcement closely followed that of another Southern California Republican, Representative Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Democrats see both districts, and California more broadly, as crucial to winning back a majority in the House, and they have plans to invest heavily in races there.
In total, 31 Republicans are either retiring or leaving the House to seek another elected office, including several other senior Republican lawmakers. Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to win control of the House.
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