Seeing the writing on the wall, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) announced his retirement rather than seek another term in a district that has become a top target of Democrats. Royce’s retirement is the strongest sign yet that the energy and momentum that Democrats have seen on the East Coast could build to historic proportions in southern California.
Even before this election cycle, Royce was one of several California Republicans in districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, including Steve Knight, Darrell Issa, Mimi Walters, David Valadao, Jeff Denham, and Dana Rohrabacher. In fact, Hillary Clinton was the first Democrat to win in Orange County in more than 80 years, which could signal a shift in voting patterns for the region.
Democratic momentum was evident in Royce’s district before he announced his retirement. Numerous candidates were already lining up for the chance to take on Royce, with a stunning five candidates that already raised more than $100,000.
Demographics are also changing in southern California. From the LA Times:
When Royce was first elected to Congress in 1992, the district he won was more than 60% white and less than a quarter Latino. Today, Asian Americans and Latinos make up more than 65% of his district while whites are just 28% of constituents.
Voter registration numbers have followed suit. Since 2012, Republicans’ share of registered voters has shrunk from 8% to less than 2%. The district is 34.4% registered Democrats and 36.1% Republicans. Decline-to-state voters make up 24.9% of those registered.
Given that Donald Trump and the Republican Party have taken a hard-line stance on immigration issues, and used shockingly racist rhetoric over the past several years, increasingly diverse voters in California are likely to notice that California Republicans are in lock-step with the Trump agenda.
Momentum can be seen in a variety of ways. Issa has the dubious honor of being the target of one of the largest, most sustained protests in the nation. Protestors, usually numbering in the hundreds, gather each week outside of Issa’s Vista district office and protest for an hour on a weekly topic. The group recently celebrated their 49th weekly protest in California’s 49th Congressional District. Issa won his 2016 race by less than one percentage point.
Members like Knight have made the decision to back the agenda of Donald Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan over the interests of their constituents. Knight backed both the repeal of the Affordable Care Act as well as the deeply unpopular Republican tax bill, which will raise taxes on his constituents but provide a windfall for wealthy Californians like Paris Hilton. Knight has seen regular protests, and also has several Democratic challengers lined up to challenge him in November.
Royce saw what happened in Virginia and Alabama, and decided to bow out on his own terms.
When Royce announced his retirement, the influential, non-partisan Cook Political Report changed their prediction of the district from “Lean Republican” to “Lean Democratic.” In their analysis, they noted, “without Royce, Republicans will struggle to hold the seat.”
His retirement is the strongest sign yet that a Democratic wave is building, and southern California could be the epicenter of a power shift in Washington, D.C.