Will GOP House retirements threaten their majority?
Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced he would not seek re-election at the end of this term.
Goodlatte was first elected in 1992 and was Judiciary Committee chairman since 2013. Republicans instituted term limits for all committee chairmen, and Goodlatte was due to be replaced in 2019. He becomes the third GOP committee chair to decline to run for re-election, following the retirement announcements by Rep. Ted Poe and Rep. Frank LoBiondo.
As it stands now, 29 GOP House members have announced they won't run again – 15 retirements and 14 seeking higher office. Only 11 Democrats have announced they will forgo another race.
Will all of these vacancies lead to a Democratic takeover?
"Anybody who has a pair of eyes and ears knows that the House is in play and at risk," Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who heads a moderate GOP caucus and is not seeking reelection next year, told The Hill. "And I'm sure that fact enters into the calculation of many members who are contemplating their futures.
"Do you really want to go through another year like the last one?" Dent asked.
Republicans face enormous electoral headwinds heading into 2018.
President Trump's approval rating is at historic lows for a first-term president, and the party that controls the White House almost always loses seats in midterm elections. The GOP held on to four House seats in special elections this year that took place in red districts, but Tuesday's shellacking at the polls is more in line with how many political observers believe 2018 will shake out.
And the stampede for the exits could continue.
Republicans said more retirement announcements are expected in the coming days and weeks. The other veteran GOP chairmen who are facing term limits and could retire are Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas).
Another long-serving Texas Republican, powerful Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, isn't facing term limits but represents a congressional district that's trending blue.
It should be noted that this is not that unusual. The average number of retirements in an off-year election for the party in power is 22. And while some of the retirements are due to red districts trending blue, most Republican candidates running to replace a retiring member will be doing so in strong Republican districts. Even fewer GOP incumbents are quitting because they fear being primaried.
Working against Democrats in these open districts will be a lack of money from the national party and only a so-so record so far in attracting viable candidates to run. Democrats may do the GOP a huge favor and run a lot of Bernie Sanders clones in these swing districts, turning off more moderate Democratic voters and energizing Republicans. Beyond that, the GOP has other advantages:
One House GOP strategist argued that only a handful of retirements are taking place in Democratic-leaning districts, pointing to seats currently held by Reps. Lobiondo [sic], Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Dave Reichert (R-Wash.). Republicans believe state Sen. Dino Rossi (R-Wash.) will hold Reichert's seat.
And Republicans still have way more incumbents running than Democrats do. In many districts, Democrats will have to survive multi-candidate primaries, potentially weakening them ahead of the general election.
"If you look across the board it's a variety of reasons and most of the retirements are in very red districts that we'll keep," said a House GOP strategist who requested anonymity. "Each member that retires does sow with their own reasons….Dent mentioned he wasn't happy, but other than that, it hasn't been a lot of folks leaving because of their electoral prospects, it's been normal attrition. You go into any cycle prepared for retirements."
It would take a wave election for Dems to take over the House, given the strong red districts they will have to flip. That's why most pundits are still giving Democrats less than a 50-50 chance of a takeover even following the strong Democratic showing last Tuesday. Twenty-eighteen may well be a Democratic year, but dislodging Republicans from control of both the House and Senate is still a long shot.