A combination of factors is driving a wave of Democratic retirements in the House as Republicans look to flip the chamber in 2022.
The census is giving deep-red Texas and Florida another congressional district. And Republican-dominated state legislatures will be able to draw maps that make red districts redder and force two Democrats to vie for the same House seat.
Democrats will get their chance to make blue districts bluer in New York, Illinois, and California, so any bellyaching they do will be mostly subdued — except where they can claim GOP racism in drawing districts in states of the old South.
But there’s no escaping the fact for many Democratic members of Congress—unless Republicans shoot themselves in the foot, they are very likely to take control in 2022.
So there is going to be a wave of retirements as members who are in marginal districts seek opportunities in the private sector or run for higher office. That means perhaps a record number of open seats to contest and Republicans are licking their chops at the prospect.
“House Democrats are sprinting to the exits because they know their chances of retaining the majority grow dimmer by the day,” says National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer.
Other Democrats — including breakout stars of recent election cycles — are eyeing opportunities to move up. Among them: Rep. Conor Lamb (Penn.), who is seriously considering making a bid for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat, and Rep. Cindy Axne (Iowa), who is weighing whether to run for governor or Senate.
The same is true for Florida Rep. Val Demings, who was on President Biden’s shortlist for vice president last year; at a February appearance on Washington Post Live, Demings said she is “keeping the door open” to running for either governor or the Senate. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) announced Tuesday that he is running for governor — a post he held from 2007 to 2011 as a Republican.
“The cycle was tough enough anyway. It’s getting tougher,” says Matt Bennett of the centrist Democratic organization Third Way. “These retirements are the added kick, and it’s scary.”
Democratic moderates are already feeling the heat from the party’s Loony Tunes wing with threats of being primaried coming at them fast and furiously. Many of those moderates are in swing districts anyway — districts won by Donald Trump or where he lost by fewer than 10 points. And rather than commit political suicide and support the radical agenda of AOC and Bernie Sanders, they may head for the exits.
Add to that the fact that Democrats who will be running to replace them are as unhinged as the Democratic leadership.
“We have a great recruiting team in place, and I think you’d be surprised. When you talk to people around the country, particularly people who are thinking about running for office and have got a lot of ability and talent, they’re angry about what these Republicans are doing,” Hoyer told me. “They’re angry about the divisions that Trump sowed in America and the insurrectionists that assaulted our democracy, and they’re angry about the people who continue to lie about whether or not there was a fair election and whether or not Joe Biden was really elected president. Of course, he was.”
Those angry Democrats play right into Republican hands. Voters in Middle America tend to shy away from angry candidates — especially when they’re espousing positions on issues they disagree with.
Republicans will have their own slew of members retiring after 2022. But with prospects of regaining the majority rising, it’s not likely a lot of them want to leave now before the party gets underway.