Sinking ship? Two more senior House Dems to retire

Sinking ship? Two more senior House Dems to retire
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

Earlier, Jazz wondered how real the alarm bells ringing among congressional Democrats might be, especially after the retirement of Rep. John Yarmuth (KY). Almost in answer, two more shoes dropped for Democrats in the midterms. Is this Republican momentum … or much ado about not much?

Two long-serving House Democrats, Reps. David Price (N.C.) and Mike Doyle (Pa.), are expected to announce Monday that they won’t seek reelection next year.

The two retirements follow House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth’s (D-Ky.) announcement last week that he won’t seek reelection, and may add to the difficulties for Democrats seeking to hold on to their majority next fall.

Price and Doyle, as well as Yarmuth, represent safe Democratic seats that aren’t expected to be competitive in next year’s midterm elections. But the retirement announcements come as Democrats are struggling to enact their domestic legislative agenda in Congress and face an uphill climb to keep their narrow majorities after 2022.

I’d fall to the side of “not much,” for reasons I’ll explain below, but still worth watching. The rumored retirement of Nancy Pelosi about which Allahpundit wrote earlier would be a much bigger deal, even though it wouldn’t impact the seat counts at all. (San Francisco isn’t going to send a moderate Democrat to Congress, let alone a Republican.) A Pelosi retirement announcement would immediately be taken as an abandon ship signal, which is why a Pelosi retirement announcement isn’t in the offing — even from the Speaker position. Kevin McCarthy will have to pry the gavel from her fingers.

Absent that kind of a development, these look more routine. Neither of these seats should be terribly competitive, but that doesn’t mean the races won’t require more resources from Democrats than a re-election would need. Price’s NC-04 is a D+16 district in the Cook Report, part of the high-tech area known as the Research Triangle in Raleigh-Durham. Joe Biden won the district 66/32, which still was the best result for a GOP presidential candidate since George W. Bush got 47% in 2000 and 38% in his re-election. Price’s most narrow recent win came in the 2010 red-wave election, 57/43.

Doyle’s PA-18 would have been almost as secure for Democrats — if it continued to exist. It had a D+13 rating from Cook, but Pennsylvania lost a seat in the 2020 census — and it’s Doyle’s. That no doubt drove his decision to retire rather than compete against another Democrat, so this is a seat that Democrats would have considered lost anyway.

Yarmuth’s decision is probably still slightly more problematic for Democrats, but not by much. His KY-08 district has a D+8 registration advantage, but it has had a little more competitive edge to it at times than Price’s or Doyle’s districts. Kerry barely won it 51/49 in 2004, for instance, but Hillary Clinton carried it 55/40 in 2016, and Biden won it 60/38 last year. It’s a very blue enclave in a very red state, and Yarmuth’s retirement might end up sending a more progressive freshman to Washington than a Republican.

In other words, these two retirements shouldn’t signal much of any change on Capitol Hill. Right now, the retirements are about even between the two parties, the Charlotte Observer notes while reporting on Price’s decision:

A flood of retirement announcements by the majority party can mean an expectation that it will lose the majority in the next election. So far that hasn’t happened, with 10 other Democrats and roughly the same number of Republicans announcing they won’t run again, the Washington Post reported last week.

So far, anyway. Most of the retirements from both sides can probably be explained away as age-related, or out of frustration with the DC “swamp.” However, watching incumbents who have accumulated seniority to this level does merit at least some notice, especially when two come on the same day more than a year before the midterms. Incumbent desire for that kind of influence on policy is what keeps junior members from bailing out of their seats and complicating party election efforts. When people at the pinnacle call it quits, that does matter.

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David Strom 9:21 PM on March 24, 2023