Ed Royce's retirement from Congress started an Orange County edition of musical chairs

Republican Rep. Ed Royce dropped a bombshell Monday, announcing that he would not seek reelection. His surprise retirement decision scrambles the field in an already competitive race for the 39th Congressional District.

One of the first Republicans to jump in the race was former Assemblywoman Young Kim, whose candidacy came with Royce’s endorsement. Kim worked for Royce as a district staffer for nearly two decades before her election to the Legislature in 2014. She was unseated in 2016 by Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva, losing by 7 percentage points in the swing district.

About a quarter of Royce’s constituents reside in the district Kim represented, and the fact she is Korean-born could give her a boost in a district where 21% of voters are Asian American — 4% are Korean American. Kim ended her campaign for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors to jump in. Her entry and early endorsement from Royce could make other GOP hopefuls think twice before mounting a run.

A few hours after Kim announced, former state Senate GOP leader Bob Huff said he would run. In 2016, Huff left his Senate seat because of term limits. His former 29th Senate District includes 82% of the constituents in Royce’s district. Huff made an unsuccessful run for L.A. County supervisor, coming in third.

Everything you need to know about the suddenly wide-open race for an Orange County congressional district »

Two former lawmakers in the race, plus Royce’s endorsement, could scare off other GOP candidates. Still, a rare open congressional seat is an attractive prize for other Republicans and has already drawn more than half a dozen Democrats.

Here’s a look at how the field has already shaped up, and how that might shift.

Other Republicans running

Shawn Nelson: Nelson has been on the Orange County Board of Supervisors since 2010 but faces term limits in 2018. About half of his district lies within the 39th District’s boundaries, including major cities such as Fullerton, Buena Park and La Habra. Nelson will shut down a 2018 committee he opened to campaign for an Orange County Superior Court judgeship, according to his campaign consultant, John Thomas.

Andrew Sarega: The La Mirada city councilman was first elected in 2013. Sarega does not live in Royce’s district and their constituencies do not overlap.

Potential GOP candidates

Scott Baugh: Baugh was chair of the Orange County Republican Party for more than a decade and served in the state Assembly from 1995 to 2000. He lives outside the district and has amassed a campaign war chest of more than $500,000 to run in Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s district should the Costa Mesa Republican retire. That sum would give him a significant cash advantage ahead of the March 14 candidate filing deadline if he chooses to switch districts. (Congressional representatives are not required to live in their districts.)

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Ling Ling Chang: This former assemblywoman ran for an Orange County Senate seat in 2016 and narrowly lost to Josh Newman, handing Democrats the supermajority. She performed well in Royce’s district, beating Newman there 53% to 47%. She’s seen as a front-runner in a recall election targeting Newman, scheduled for June 5, the same day as the congressional primaries.

Phillip Chen: Chen won Chang’s Assembly seat in 2016 when she ran for state Senate. He represents nearly 63% of Royce’s constituents. It seems unlikely he would give up a safe GOP seat to run in a competitive congressional race, given he can serve in the Assembly through 2028.

John Cullum: He challenged Rep. Loretta Sanchez in 2014 and 2016 but didn't get past the primary. He told the OC Register he's "strongly considering" a run.

Michelle Park Steel: Steel, who doesn’t live in the district, has been discussed as a possible successor to Rohrabacher in the neighboring 48th Congressional District. Steel is well known in Orange County GOP circles, but her district does not have significant overlap with Royce’s, so she could struggle to build name recognition.

Democrats already in the race

Gil Cisneros: A Navy veteran and former shipping manager who became a philanthropist after winning the lottery in 2010.

Sam Jammal: Former Obama administration employee who also previously worked as chief of staff to Los Angeles Rep. Tony Cardenas.

Phil Janowicz: A former chemistry professor at Cal State Fullerton who now owns an education consulting firm with his wife.

Ted Rusk: A building contractor from Cerritos who has opened a campaign committee but hasn’t yet reported raising any money.

Andy Thorburn: A health insurance executive and former teacher who has given his own campaign more than $2 million.

Mai Khanh Tran: A pediatrician who came to the U.S. as a Vietnamese refugee when she was a child.

And still others

Democrat Jay Chen has said he’s considering running for the seat again. The Mt. San Antonio Community College trustee ran against Royce in 2012 and lost 58% to 42%.

Stephan Cox and business systems analyst Julio Castaneda have opened campaign committees with the Federal Election Commission to run as independents. Neither has raised a significant amount of money.

Herbert H. Lee, a physician and former UC Irvine Medical School professor, and Suzi Park Leggett, the widow of the late Democratic Rep. Robert Leggett, have pulled papers to run but have not yet filed to make it official. Both are Democrats.

Melissa “Sharkie” Garza, one of 23 candidates on the ballot in Los Angeles’ 34th Congressional District special election last year, also has pulled papers to run as an independent.

There is a March 14 deadline for candidates to file paperwork to run.

christine.maiduc@latimes.com

For more on California politics, follow @cmaiduc.

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Updates on California politics

A previous version of this article said that the candidate filing deadline is March 9. The filing deadline has been extended because Royce chose not to seek re-election.
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