California 49 Ratings Update: Issa’s Open Seat Remains a Toss-up for Now

January 10, 2018 · 11:55 AM EST

A new day, a new Republican retirement, but a similar story. On Wednesday, GOP Rep. Darrell Issa announced he will not seek re-election to his Southern California district, leaving Republicans to defend another open seat that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. 

But similar to California’s 39th District, where GOP Rep. Ed Royce just announced his retirement, the 49th District in recent history has usually voted for Republican candidates yet rejected Donald Trump and nearly threw out Issa, who had become known for his Benghazi investigations. 

The scope of the Democratic takeover opportunity depends on whether Clinton’s performance is the new normal or whether 2016 was an aberration. 

For example, Clinton carried the district 51-43 percent in 2016, but in 2012, Romney won it 52-46 percent and Republican Elizabeth Emken defeated Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein 53-47 percent, even though she lost statewide by 25 points.  

There is a case to be made that Issa’s retirement might improve GOP chances of holding the seat. Issa had increasingly become a polarizing, partisan national figure and narrowly won re-election 50.3-49.7 percent. Republicans have an opportunity to nominate someone with a cleaner slate. And even though Issa is one of the wealthiest Members of Congress and could self-fund any race, he didn’t choose to leverage that advantage to the fullest extent last cycle.  

Potential GOP candidates include former assemblywoman/Board of Equalization Chairwoman Diane Harkey (who told the Orange County Daily she plans to run), Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, although the mayor has been mentioned for higher offices than Congress. 

Democrats have multiple candidates, including environmental attorney Mike Levin, 2016 nominee Doug Applegate, Navy veteran/real estate company owner Paul Kerr, and Sara Jacobs, who worked on policy for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.*

The filing deadline is March 9 ahead of the June 5 Top Two primary. 

Under normal conditions, Republicans may even have an edge to hold the open seat. But, as we mentioned when Royce retired, with a staggering deficit in the national generic ballot (Democrats have a 48-37 percent lead, according to the RealClearPolitics average), it’s tough to give the GOP any sort of edge in this political environment.

For now, we’re holding our rating of the race for California’s 49th District as a Toss-Up. If Republicans don’t get a good candidate or evidence of a national wave overwhelming the district, the rating will shift further toward Democrats. And this is the type of seat and race Democrats have to win in order to win the majority.

Update 2:13pm- Clarified Paul Kerr's real estate company.