House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) will retire at the end of his term, handing Democrats a huge opportunity in a Democratic-trending district and marking the latest sign of a building blue wave in the 2018 elections.
“In this final year of my Foreign Affairs Committee chairmanship, I want to focus fully on the urgent threats facing our nation,” Royce said in a statement Monday evening. “With this in mind, and with the support of my wife Marie, I have decided not to seek reelection in November.”
Royce’s decision to retire is a blow to his party’s hopes to hold onto the Democratic-trending Orange County swing seat. Royce won reelection last year by double digits even as Hillary Clinton was carrying the district by 52 percent to 43 percent — a major shift to Democrats after Mitt Romney won it by four percentage points in 2012.
His decision adds Royce to a growing list of longtime GOP lawmakers who’ve decided to leave Congress instead of facing a tough reelection battle in what’s increasingly looking like a wave election year. A high number of retirements are often a sign of a building political wave, and while many committee chairmen decide to retire from Congress at the end of their tenures rather than take on a reduced role in Congress, Democrats’ double-digit lead in many recent generic congressional ballots is unquestionably playing a role in some of their decision-making. Congressmen often decide to pack things up after talking things over with family over the holidays, and Royce may not be the last one to decide to retire.
The race was shaping up to be Royce’s toughest election in his career. He was held to 57 percent of the vote last year, a solid number but a mark that matched the lowest win percentage of his career, from his first election in 1992, and that came against a candidate who raised just $74,000 for his entire campaign. While some GOP operatives were worried Royce might not be ready to shake off the rust in the district, he was sitting on a campaign war chest of almost $3.5 million — a major sum in an expensive media market.
Democrats had already made it clear the seat would be a top target in next fall’s midterm elections — its population is roughly one third Hispanic and one third Asian American, making it a prime pickup opportunity in the age of Trump.
Five Democrats are already running for the seat that have raised at least $100,000 — including heavy-hitting self-funders Andy Thorburn, his campaign $2 million, Gil Cisneros, another self-funder, and Mai-Khanh Tran, a pediatrician and former refugee from Vietnam who has the backing of EMILY’s List.
Royce is a longtime foreign policy hawk who often sparred with the Obama administration on issues from Iran to North Korea. He’s also taken a hawkish approach towards Russia — calling for more sanctions against the country after its invasion of Ukraine — and his decision to retire could free him up to return to his more aggressive posture towards the country.
With Royce leaving, the GOP faces a potentially tough recruiting challenge in the district, though they said they’ll fight hard for it.
“Republicans are fired up and ready to hold this seat. Orange County has no shortage of Republican talent and a highly organized ground effort with the NRCC at the forefront,” NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) said in a statement. “We have just one message for Democrats who think they can compete for this seat: bring it on.”