30 retirements and counting: Moderate House Dem Kathleen Rice throws in the towel

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By comparison, just 13 House Republicans have announced their retirements so far. That tells us all we need to know about how the two party establishments view their respective chances this fall.

House Dems are caught in the same predicament they were in January 2010, after rumblings of an earthquake in that fall’s midterms had already begun. On the one hand, Pelosi wanted anyone who was thinking of retirement to announce early and give the party time to recruit a credible nominee in their district. On the other hand, a slew of early retirements would raise anxiety within that the midterms were destined to be a bloodbath, possibly spooking some Dems who otherwise intended to run again into quitting as well.

The more Kathleen Rices there are, the more there are likely to be. Dilemmas, dilemmas.

I’m keen to know what sort of internal polling Rice was seeing to convince her to retire now. She’s only 57 and is serving just her fourth term in the House. She’s won most of her general elections comfortably too, gliding to a 13-point victory in 2020. Surely that was enough of a cushion to guarantee reelection this year too, right?

Well … not exactly, say the pros. Unless a red tsunami materializes then yes, Rice’s district of NY-4 should go Democratic. But the odds of a red tsunami aren’t as small as they usually are. And so:

Under New York’s new redistricting map, Rice’s district would reportedly be 55/43 Democratic. Pretty safe unless the midterms are a bloodbath for Democrats nationally, in other words.

Does Rice’s polling show signs of a bloodbath in the works?

More likely, I’m guessing, is that it shows her race is competitive, which is reason enough to bail out now. If NY-4 is uncertain then the House majority is surely gone. And Kathleen Rice has better things to do with her time, it seems, than serve in a powerless House caucus that may find itself in the minority for the next decade. “Thirty House Democrats have called it quits because they know their majority is doomed,” said a spokesman for the NRCC to The Hill. He’s not wrong.

Democratic incumbents who intend to fight on until November have been left pointing fingers at who’s to blame for the party’s position. Some single out Ron Klain and Chuck Schumer for investing so heavily in progressive wishlist items like Build Back Better and voting rights when swing voters are anxious about inflation and COVID. “They just won’t take the hits,” said one Democratic lawmaker to the LA Times. “They tell everyone what they want to hear and they’re afraid to take the hits from activist groups, whether it’s on voting rights or other policy areas. And if no one is willing to take the hits, it’s anarchy.” Moderate Dems in the House also blame progressives for obsessing about things the party hasn’t been able to pass instead of celebrating the things that it has. “There’s a negativity that I don’t ascribe to. It’s unfortunate because we have a good record,” Abigail Spanberger, a vulnerable centrist, complained to Reuters.

Wherever the fault properly lies, Republicans see a wave coming. Politico offered a laundry list of reasons, from Dems ignoring voters’ top priorities to the public’s changing outlook on COVID to the daunting generic ballot polling to a phenomenal enthusiasm gap. Digest this:

6. GOP ENTHUSIASM IS REAL: You can see it in the fundraising numbers and the candidates, Republicans say. For years, Democrats have significantly outraised the GOP campaign committees. This time, the GOP committees are in the lead, or nipping at the heels of Democrats who’ve outraised them cycle after cycle.

Republicans also point to the sheer number of GOP candidates running this cycle as an indication of enthusiasm on their side. In 2010, 851 Republicans had filed to run by this point. Currently, that number is more than 1,220. Compare that with the huge number of Democrats deciding to retire — 29, the most since 1996.

That was published yesterday, before Rice’s retirement made it an even 30. In 2018, the year of the blue wave in the House, 33 Republicans retired. Democrats have almost matched that already this year. Stay tuned.