Publicly, House Democrats declare confidence in their chances to retake control of the lower chamber in the 2014 election cycle, even though presidents routinely lose significant numbers of seats in their second midterms. Their actions speak louder than their boasts, however. Jim Moran, a 12-term Congressman in a safe Democratic district and a close ally of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, called it quits — the third House Democrat to do so this week:
The 12-term Virginia lawmaker will announce his decision in a Wednesday morning statement obtained early by CQ Roll Call.
“After 35 years as a public servant, as Mayor of Alexandria, and for the past 23 as a member of the House of Representatives, it’s time to close this chapter of my life and move on to the next challenge,” Moran said.
Moran represents a strong Democratic district that encompasses the suburbs of Washington, D.C., plus Alexandria and Arlington. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will likely not have trouble holding the seat in 2014.
It’s true that VA-08 is a safe Democratic district (Cook report shows D+16), not surprising given its proximity to Washington DC and the lobbyist/bureaucracy nexus. It went for Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008 by 39 points, and the last time Moran didn’t get over 60% of the vote was in 2004, when George Bush won re-election at the top of the ticket. However, Democrats didn’t have to pour a lot of resources into VA-08 until now, thanks to Moran. Now Democrats will have a primary fight in the district that will drain their resources, and a necessarily weaker candidate will emerge — who may end up requiring national resources to keep the advantage.
Moran becomes the third House Democrat to retire just this week. George Miller (D-CA) also represents a similarly safe district, D+17 in Cook, and California is a much safer state for Democrats than Virginia. That’s still the loss of a 30-year veteran of the caucus and another Pelosi ally out the door, which makes the boasts about putting the gavel back in her hands look more and more like either cheap talk or false bravado.
The third, Bill Owens, only won NY-21 thanks to a special election and a split on the Right in the R+2 district. Our own Jazz Shaw worked in that special election fight, and while it’s not a slam-dunk for Republicans, it’s a clear pickup opportunity. If Owens is leaving, that says something about the prospects for Democrats in battleground districts.
This is, of course, retirement season for the House. Incumbents disinclined to campaign again will let their constituents know early enough to allow their party to find a strong candidate rather than wait until the last moment. So far, Republican retirements outstrip Democrats, but only by three, and Republicans don’t have to make up ground against Democrats anyway. Democrats need to retain their incumbents in this midterm election far more than the GOP does — and if high-seniority members in cushy districts are heading for the exits, that suggests that they’re seeing no point in sticking around for another few years of minority status.