The unexpected retirement announcement that nine-term Congressman Darrell Issa made Wednesday morning has people wondering whether Republicans can hold on to a district that national pollsters say is the most "vulnerable to flipping."
With Issa locked in for so long, Republicans have taken California’s 49th District almost for granted.
But Democrat Doug Applegate, a retired Marine colonel, almost beat Issa in the closest Congressional race of 2016, losing by six tenths of a percentage point.
And he’s taking nothing for granted.
"I'd like to see the party come in and be a lot more involved now,” he said in an interview Wednesday outside of Issa’s district office in Vista. “Because quite frankly, if we don't run someone as a Democrat in the 49th that can talk to the veterans in the 49th, I don't believe we'll capture this seat. So, it’s game on!"
Applegate told NBC 7 he thinks Issa decided not to run again after "internal polling" as to how the constituency has become more moderate.
Issa was in Washington, D.C., Wednesday and unavailable for a face-to-face interview.
He issued a two-page statement saying, in part, “I never could have imagined that a long-shot bid for U.S. Senate would lead to 18 years in the House of Representatives and endless opportunities to make a meaningful impact.”
Otherwise, Issa indicated he might return to the car alarm business that made him the second wealthiest member of Congress, with a reported net worth of $430 million.
Republicans lead Democrats by seven percentage points in the 49th, which has constituents both in San Diego and Orange Counties.
Issa received much media attention while chairing the powerful House Reform and Oversight Committee.
But with him retiring after his nine terms on “The Hill," political observers see a potential shifting of the political tide in the 49th.
Republican John Dadian, a former Issa campaign consultant, said, "Clearly the Republicans think it's their seat, so it's going to be a large field. The names are longer than my arm. But Democrats see them picking it up both locally and nationally. They need to pick up this seat and several others in California to win nationally and overtake the Congress. And now they see that as a realistic possibility."
Scott Lewis, editor-in-chief of NBC 7’s news partner, Voice of San Diego, doesn’t rule out Issa’s retirement benefiting the GOP come election day.
"The question is, is there a Republican out there who can identify a more attractive platform that doesn't drive the base of Democrats out the way that Darrell lssa did?” Lewis said. “Or is that impossible to avoid right now?"
Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, who represents the 76th District, immediately announced his plan to run for Issa's seat, as did former Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, who is also a Republican and now a member of the state Board of Equalization.