WASHINGTON — Representative Darrell Issa of California said Wednesday that he will not seek reelection, marking the exit of a leading Republican critic of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and potentially easing the way for a Democrat to succeed him.
Issa built a national profile as the chief congressional antagonist to Obama and his administration during his tenure as ranking member and then chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee between 2008 and 2015. He later targeted Clinton as she moved toward seeking the presidency over her response to the deadly 2012 terrorist attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
But Issa’s hold on his San Diego-area district became increasingly tenuous in recent years, and he only barely fended off a Democratic challenger in 2016. National Democrats have put Issa’s district at the top of their target lists for November’s midterms.
In a statement Wednesday, Issa did not give a reason for his departure but reflected on a two-decade political career that included jump-starting the process that led to the 2003 recall of Democratic California Governor Gray Davis.
‘‘Throughout my service, I worked hard and never lost sight of the people our government is supposed to serve,’’ he said. ‘‘Yet with the support of my family, I have decided that I will not seek reelection in California’s 49th District.’’
Issa’s announcement came two days after another California Republican, Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Edward Royce, announced his own retirement — leaving a nearby Orange County district amid a strong Democratic push for his ouster. Democrats have generally eyed California seats as a key component on their path back to a House majority.
Issa rocketed to national prominence during his four years as oversight committee chairman, during which he mounted aggressive investigations into Obama’s administration that fueled attacks from the growing Tea Party movement and made him a cable-news stalwart. His targets included ATF’s ‘‘Fast and Furious’’ operation that was implicated in the death of a Border Patrol agent and allegations of political targeting by the Internal Revenue Service.
In 2012, Issa launched one of the first congressional inquiries into the Benghazi attacks, which resulted in the deaths of two diplomats and two CIA contractors during Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. The oversight committee’s investigation paved the way for the later appointment of a select committee that continued probing the incident as Clinton pursued her run for president.
Since leaving the chairmanship, Issa has sought to cultivate a more bipartisan profile, working on issues involving immigration and technology. His district consists of parts of San Diego and Orange counties that have a solid GOP constituency, due in part to the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps installation, but that political base has eroded as California has moved steadily toward Democrats.
In 2016, Issa won reelection by fewer than 2,000 votes over Democratic challenger Doug Applegate in a race that was unresolved for days. Applegate had announced plans to again challenge Issa, as have several other Democratic candidates.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates California’s 49th congressional district as barely leaning Republican by one point and put Issa’s reelection chances as a tossup.
Without a known quantity like Issa on the ballot, Democrats’ chances should improve.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee placed field organizers in Issa’s district nearly a near ago, and opened an Orange County office last year aimed at flipping the Issa and Royce seats to Democrats.