Barney Frank - Exit stage left

The news broke quickly this morning. So quickly, in fact, that most of the talking heads were unable to reference more than a one line release.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) will announce later today that he will not run for re-election.

Specualation began running wild immediately as to whether or not this sent some sort of deeper signal about Frank – or perhaps the Massachusetts Democratic Party – being in trouble. I wouldn’t get too excited about that, though. Barney represents the 4th district in the Bay State, an area so liberal that it’s had Fidel Castro rethinking that whole wealth redistribution thing. I seriously doubt he was in any danger of losing his seat unless there’s a scandal about to bust loose which nobody is talking about.

A far more likely explanation was posited almost immediately on Twitter by Jim Geraghty. Following the 2010 census, Massachusetts is in line to lose one congressional seat, taking them from 10 to 9. Frank is more than seventy years old and could very likely have been looking at retirement in the not too distant future anyway, and this gives the state party an easy out in terms of carving up their redistricting map without the need for a nasty, internecine food fight.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to read in the tea leaves. The one thing Barney has going for him is a massive amount of seniority. If he and his party were solidly of the opinion that they would be taking back the majority in the House next fall, he would doubtless be back at the front of the line for one or more of any number of influential committee leadership spots. That translates to a lot of power and influence and would probably make it a bit harder to just walk away. Does this sudden exit indicate that the Democrats have pretty much given up hope of that happening?

We’ll update you here later as the story develops. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: The Boston Globe is indicating that Frank’s office referenced the latest round of redistricting as playing into his decision not to run again. That seems rather odd, though, since they also conclude that the new proposed district lines would still put him on some real estate which Obama carried with 61%. Doesn’t look like a very big challenge to me.

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