This brings us to our next group of retirements: those who faced tough reelection bids. At least five of the Republicans retiring fall into this category (including Hurd and Roby), but for most of them, the general election looked to be their trouble spot and not the primary. Hurd, in particular, was vulnerable, as his seat is only 4 points more Republican than the country as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric,3 and he’s one of only three Republicans in districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016 who didn’t lose their seats in the 2018 midterm elections. Hurd barely held on in 2018, too, winning his seat by just 0.4 points, so he may have decided he didn’t want a rematch against his Democratic opponent, Gina Ortiz Jones, who is running again in 2020. As for the other Republicans in this category, their districts are redder than Hurd’s, but similar to Hurd, they faced close reelection bids in 2018. Georgia Rep. Rob Woodall, for instance, only held onto his seat after a recount. And two other Texas Republicans — Reps. Kenny Marchant and Pete Olson — won reelection in 2018 by fewer than 5 points. There are also signs that the largely suburban districts Marchant, Olson and Woodall represent are moving away from the GOP in the age of Trump, as part of more suburban districts voting Democratic.
As for the other two GOP retirements, they perhaps were unavoidable because of Republican conference rules that do not allow members to lead committees for more than three consecutive terms, unless they get a special waiver (which is rare). That meant the jig was up for both Texas Rep. Mike Conaway and Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, as each was in his third term as a ranking member or chairman (when the GOP had a majority) of his respective committee. In other words, even if Republicans won back the House majority in 2020, Conaway and Bishop wouldn’t become chairmen of the committees where they currently hold the top GOP spots. Given that they both represent safe Republican seats, they weren’t in electoral danger, so they may have just decided it wasn’t worth sticking around any longer.