Wave of House Democrat retirements fuels fears for party’s election prospects | Democrats

For Michigan Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, it was a question from her husband, “When is it our time?” For North Carolina Congressman David Price, it was the judgment that “the time has come” to resign.

Some retired Democrats have blamed the gridlock and dysfunction on Capitol Hill while others point to Congressional map shuffling. Still others refer to the rise of political extremism and the deterioration of relations between members of Congress, particularly following the January 6 uprising. Announcing his decision to retire last year, Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind was candid: “The truth is, I’m out of gas.

The decision not to run is both deeply personal and political. But as the party prepares for a grueling midterm election in November, a growing number of House Democrats are choosing not to return to Congress next year.

On Monday, Florida Congressman Ted Deutch announced he would not seek re-election, bringing the total number of House Democratic departures so far this cycle to 31.

Among them, eight Democrats are running for other positions next year, such as Tim Ryan of Ohio, candidate for the Senate, and Karen Bass of California, candidate for mayor of Los Angeles. Some outgoing members are powerful veterans, like John Yarmuth of Kentucky, chairman of the budget committee, and Peter DeFazio of Oregon, chairman of the transportation and infrastructure committee. Others represent politically competitive districts, such as Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona.

This is a worrying trend for Democrats. Retirements from Congress are often the harbinger of an election spree – for the other party. In 2018, dozens of House Republicans did not seek re-election, including then-House Majority Leader Paul Ryan. The party lost 41 seats that year and Democrats took control of the chamber, in an election cycle widely seen as a referendum on Donald Trump.

This year, the political winds are reversed. Republicans trumpet every retirement as a sign that Democrats’ hopes of retaining their majority are fading. “Their majority is doomed,” National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spokesman Mike Berg said recently. “Withdraw or lose.”

Although many vacancies are in safe Democratic neighborhoods, the retirement rush comes as the party faces significant historical headwinds.

The president’s party almost always loses seats in midterm elections. And in the House, Democrats can only afford to lose a handful of seats before ceding control.

With Biden’s declining approval ratings, the stalled Democrat agenda, public dissatisfaction with the economy and inflation, and Republicans’ strong performance in a series of off-cycle elections, the political landscape looks bleak for the ruling party. Adding to the uncertainty is the once-a-decade redistricting process when a state’s congressional and legislative districts are redrawn.

The House is often a reflection of the American national mood, which public opinion polls show is pessimistic. Voters are frustrated with their political leaders and the party is preparing for a backlash. In a poll that asks voters which party they would support on election day — as opposed to which congressional candidate — Republicans repeatedly hold the edge.

In an interview, Price, 81, said his decision to leave Congress after three decades was “mostly personal” and not circumstantial. During the Trump years, he said many longtime Democrats put off the decision to retire because they felt their experience was needed on Capitol Hill. Now they feel the time has come.

Price’s new district is safely classified as Democratic, and after a long redistricting battle, the North Carolina State Supreme Court recently approved congressional maps favorable to the party.

David Price speaks at a press conference in October. Photo: Julia Wall/AP

“I would suggest they don’t break out the champagne yet,” he said of Republicans. “This redistricting in our state and in many states is turning out not to be quite the windfall for them that they thought.”

Although Democrats fared much better than expected in the redistricting process, it was still a factor in some decisions to retire or seek another position.

“The number of retirements is naturally higher in years that end in ‘twos’ because those are redistricting cycles,” said Kyle Kondik, editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

It was a brutal experience for some. Congressman Jim Cooper saw his Democratic seat in Nashville split into three different districts that Trump would have easily won in 2020. He decried the move as “raw politics” and an effort to dilute the electoral power of black voters.

A day after the Tennessee legislature approved the map, Cooper announced his retirement from Congress, where he had served for more than three decades.

“I have explored every possible means, including legal action, to stop gerrymandering and win one of the three new congressional districts that now divide Nashville,” he said. “There is no way, at least for me in this election cycle, but there may be a path for other worthy candidates.”

John Rogers, a Republican pollster who was the executive director of the Republican National Committee of Congress during the 2018 midterm election cycle, says the retirement of powerful and longtime Democrats is a strong sign that the party prepares for defeat in November.

“There are too many committee chairs retiring for it to just be a redistricting,” he said, adding that the prospect of losing a hammer or ending a long career in the minority did not appeal to some politicians.

Retirements deprive a party of the perks that come with office: fundraising, name recognition and a deep understanding of one’s constituency, factors that are especially critical in competitive seats.

“The position isn’t as valuable as it used to be,” said Kondik, author of The Long Red Thread: How Democratic Dominance Gave Way to Republican Advantage in US House Elections. “But open seats are generally harder to defend, especially in a wave-style environment.”

Not since 1992 have so many House Democrats chosen not to seek re-election. And with states still finalizing their congressional maps and candidate filing deadlines approaching, there could be more retirements to come.

“As bad as it is to serve in Congress, it’s worse to serve in the minority,” Kondik said, “especially in the House.”

Contrary to the trend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her decision to run again, quenching speculation that she would retire at the end of the term. Pelosi was re-elected as president after agreeing to step down from office by the end of 2022.

Republican retreats, though far fewer, are also telling.

As of this week, 15 House Republicans have said they will not run for office, including seven for another position. Among them are more moderate members, including Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and John Katko of New York, who have faced conservative backlash for voting to impeach Trump.

Democrats argue that a lot could change before the November election.

The Covid-19 pandemic appears to be receding and the economy remains strong, despite inflation. Biden began speeding up his trips across the country touting his legislative accomplishments. He has received rare bipartisan praise for his handling of the Ukraine crisis and Democratic voters are excited about his Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is set to become the first black woman to sit on the bench after his confirmation hearings later. this month.

And Republicans, they say, will have to answer for Trump’s enduring control of their party and the fallout from Congress’s investigation into the events of Jan. 6, as well as their efforts to restrict access to abortion and ballot, issues that Democrats believe will rally voters to their side this cycle.

“Most midterm elections, by their nature, are ruling-party referendums,” said Ian Russell, a Democratic strategist and former national political director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But he said that by embracing Trump’s lies about voter fraud and refusing to sanction their most extreme members, Republicans are helping to frame the election as a choice between “two parties with very different priorities, including the one will end up in control”.

Last month, Lawrence, the congresswoman from Michigan, surprised some of her colleagues when she announced that she would be retiring at the end of her term, after more than three decades in public service.

“After four years of Donald Trump’s Covid administration, January 6th was a death by a million cuts,” she said in an interview.

Lawrence, who represents a heavily Democratic district and is the only black member of Michigan’s congressional delegation, said she “feels good” about her heritage and will continue to be active in her community through d other ways: “I don’t go home to plant flowers.”

She hopes her departure will make way for a new generation of black lawmakers, who will bring new urgency to battles over women’s reproductive rights, vote protections and police reform.

“I came to Congress when we were in the minority,” she said. “But I came with the intention of making a difference, and I hope that will continue to motivate American citizens to enter public service – because there is work to be done.”

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