It’s only been about a month since we last checked which members of the US House of Representatives are retiring, but 10 more have already announced their intention to leave office. Eight of those outgoing members are also Democrats, which may indicate a lack of confidence in the party’s position in the 2022 midterm elections.
As I have already written, members of the President’s party often leave Capitol Hill during a mid-term cycle because they assume that the next election will go badly. The president’s party almost always loses House seats in midterm elections, and the more unpopular the presidents are, the more ground their party loses in the House. Considering President Biden’s approval rating is in the low 40s with less than 10 months to go before the election, 2022 could be particularly bad for Democrats.
It’s no surprise, then, that more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans, 28 to 13, have chosen to either retire or run for another office at this point.
|district||representative||party||why they go||partisan lean|
|CA-37||Karen Bass||D||mayor run||D+68.5|
|TX-30||Eddie Bernice Johnson||D||Retire||D+55.8|
|MD-04||Anthony Brown||D||atty Gen. run||D+54.2|
|VT AL||Peter Welch||D||Senate run||D+27.5|
|FL-10||Val Demings||D||Senate run||D+20.8|
|NY-03||Tom Suozzi||D||governor run||D+6.2|
|OH-13||Tim Ryan||D||Senate run||D+0.3|
|FL-13||Charlie Crist||D||governor run||R+1.0|
|PA-17||Conor Lamm||D||Senate run||R+2.3|
|NY-01||Lee Zeldin||R||governor run||R+9.6|
|GA-10||Jody, I did that||R||Second State Run||R+27.8|
|AL-05||Mo Brooks||R||Senate run||R+32.4|
|NC-13||Ted Budd||R||Senate run||R+38.2|
|MON-04||Vicky Hartzler||R||Senate run||R+39.3|
|MON-07||Billy Lang||R||Senate run||R+47.7|
|TX-01||Louie Gohmert||R||atty Gen. run||R+50.3|
Republicans will also benefit from these departures, as many Democratic incumbents have given up the more competitive turf, which could make it easier for the GOP to grab those districts. Just how many swing seats these retirements have left open isn’t easy, however, as the reallocation is still ongoing. Nonetheless, 26 of the 41 outgoing members come from states that have completed the reelection process, and those departures have left seven potentially competitive seats open so far — all in districts currently represented by Democrats.
Nor is it far-fetched that Republicans could win all seven seats in a Republican-leaning environment. In fact, there could be a few more Democrat-leaning seats on the table if things go really well for Republicans. (Remember, the GOP doesn’t need to take that many seats to regain majority in the House of Representatives; they only need to win five more seats.)
As for the seven vacant seats held by Democrats that could show promise for Republicans, Colorado’s 7th district, held by Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter, is perhaps the most notable recent entry in this category. Perlmutter’s retirement is a particularly negative signal for the Democrats’ medium-term chances because it could bring into play a pro-Democratic seat that, thanks to the redistribution, will also be more receptive to the GOP. Colorado’s new map makes the seat about 6 points more Democratic than the country as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric — less than a far less competitive D+15 on the current map.
In addition to Perlmutter’s seat, the six other districts include two highly competitive seats in Illinois and North Carolina (those of Reps. Cheri Bustos and GK Butterfield, respectively), a Democratic-leaning but potentially competitive seat in Oregon (of Rep. Peter DeFazio). and what is now a Republican-leaning seat in Arizona (held by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick). The resignation of Texas Rep. Filemón Vela also falls into this category, although his seat became much bluer in the wake of the constituency’s re-election. That’s because the neighboring Democratic Rep. is Vicente Gonzalez running now in Vela’s more Democratic district, leaving his toss-up seat next door without a strong Democratic incumbent. Likewise the Californian representative Jerry McNerney retirement led Democratic Rep. Josh Harder to do so Walk into McNerney’s D+8 seat instead of a D+7 seat next door, making a blue-sloped seat potentially vulnerable in a year favorable to the GOP.
In the states of the 15 other outgoing members of both parties, the cards are not yet final, but here too it looks like mostly bad news for the Democrats at the moment. It’s unclear whether Republican mapmakers in Florida will draw Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s Orlando-area seat as a toss-up or as a Republican-leaning district, but at least the seat will become less hospitable to Democrats. Not far away, in St. Petersburg, it also looks like the successor seat to Democrat Charlie Crist’s current district is likely to be very competitive as well. And outside of Florida, at least a few other unassigned seats might be at best for Democrats, like Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb’s district in western Pennsylvania and Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind’s seat in western Wisconsin.
For Republicans, only one recently announced departure could cost them a seat: On Jan. 14, Republican Rep. John Katko of New York announced his withdrawal from Congress. This is bad news for the GOP as Katko’s central congressional district in New York is a Democratic-leaning precinct (D+4 under current lines). And since Democrats are able to draw the line in New York, they no longer have to worry about Katkos Ability to significantly exceed the baseline of the GOP in the region, that is they can’t feel compelled to make that seat a lot bluer to give their party a better chance of winning it.
The fact that Democratic ticket makers may have given Katko a harder seat likely contributed to his decision to step down, but it’s also possible that the antipathy he felt from his own party also drove him out the door. Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Trump, Katko is now the third to retire. (Trump card celebrated Katko’s farewell, and said, “Great news, another bites the dust.”) But voting to impeach the former president wasn’t the only partisan foul Katko committed. He also earned conservative hostility for supporting the bipartisan infrastructure plan and legislation to create a committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Because of this, Katko’s departure is significant beyond his electoral ramifications; It’s the latest signal from a GOP, particularly within the House of Representatives, that will align itself even more closely with Trump.
However, redistribution likely played a role in at least a handful of other recent retirements as well. Most notably, Michigan’s new map split Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence’s current district into three seats, and She chose to retire rather than seek re-election, which has raised the possibility that Michigan will not have a member of the Black House in the next Congress, despite the sizable black population in the Detroit area — as recently as 2017, Michigan had two black members from the area. Meanwhile, California’s new map placed two incumbents, Democratic Representatives Alan Lowenthal and Lucille Roybal-Allard, in the same deep blue Los Angeles area seats and no one decided to stay tuned. Given that Democrats will easily retain that seat, their resignation may be more due to the age of the candidates — they’re both 80 years old — and the fact that Democrats don’t have much of a chance of gaining control of Parliament keep house. These factors may also help explain the resignation decisions of longtime Democratic Representatives. Bobby Rush from Illinois, Albio Sires of New Jersey and Jim Langevin of Rhode Island leaving despite holding strong Democratic districts.
Retirements won’t determine the outcome of the 2022 House midterm election, but they’re a signal that Democrats believe they’re in a bad voting position. While politicians aren’t necessarily great experts, given Biden’s approval rating and the history of the generic ballot poll, their stance is understandable. And there could be more retirements on the way, as only one state — Texas — has done has exceeded the application deadline, so stay tuned.