Following their disastrous 30-seat loss to the Democrats in the 2006 midterm elections, Republicans expressed the hope that many if not most of those seats might revert back to the GOP side of the ledger in 2008. The thinking went that many of those seats were in solidly Republican districts and only the lower turnout occasioned by the off-year election cycle was at fault for the loss of so many close races.
There was even talk of the GOP regaining control of Congress if they caught a little luck and put up some good candidates in open seats where no incumbent would be running due to death or retirement.
But then came the scramble for the exits among House Republicans and that vision proved to be nothing but a mirage. Like a bunch of theatergoers leaving at the end of the second act of a really bad show, a parade of GOP Congressmen appeared before the cameras, and one by one over the ensuing months announced their retirement. The list grew to include 22 members — many of them long-serving Congressmen who found themselves facing a well funded, and enthusiastic Democratic challenger for the first time in many years.
Some apparently just didn’t have to the stomach for a tough general election campaign. Many more didn’t like the idea of being a backbencher of a minority party. Still others leave disillusioned and dispirited — casualties of a broken system where pork barrel politics and influence peddling is rewarded while the right thing can be frowned upon.
In addition to the 22 GOP House members who are retiring, another 12 are leaving for a variety of reasons including death, running for higher office or, like Dennis Hastert (R-IL), resigning prior to the end of their term.
That means there will be 34 seats previously held by a Republican in play for the Democrats. The Democrats have a total of six members who will not be coming back next year.
The math is frightening. With 28 seats up for grabs in 2008 on top of the 18 seat majority currently held by Democrats, there is a very good chance that Democrats, for all practical purposes, could win enough seats this year that the GOP would be a minority party for the next decade — and perhaps beyond. When 98% of incumbents in the House are victorious and redistricting looms in 2012, the chances of Republicans overcoming a 40 or 50-seat Democratic majority in the next couple of election cycles are slim.