Matheson, Latham, Wolf retirements shake up the race for House control

Greg Nash

Longtime Reps. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Tom Latham (R-Iowa) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) announced Tuesday they would not run for reelection, shaking up the race for the House. 

Matheson’s retirement hands Republicans a near-certain pickup in a heavily Republican district, but Democrats believe they can pick up both Wolf’s and Latham’s seats as they seek to win the House back from Republicans.

Matheson’s and Latham’s retirements were both surprising.

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The former was gearing up for a rematch against Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love (R), whom he defeated in 2012. The latter defeated longtime Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell just last year after their districts were merged.

Matheson represents the most Republican district of any Democrat in Congress. Mitt Romney won it with 67 percent of the vote in last year’s presidential race, and Love, who nearly beat Matheson in 2012, has been pulling in big fundraising totals.

But President Obama won Latham’s district by 4 percentage points and only lost Wolf’s district by 1 point in 2012, giving Democrats hope they can win both seats.

Democrats had already coalesced around former state Sen. Staci Appel (D) to run against Latham. It’s unclear who might run on the GOP side.

Democrats need to win a net of 18 seats to retake the House majority, a tall order for the party that holds the White House in a midterm election, particularly in a second presidential term. Obama’s plummeting approval ratings aren’t bolstering Democratic confidence, either.

Potential Republican candidates for Wolf’s seat include former Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who has moved from Alabama to Northern Virginia and switched his party affiliation to the GOP. 

Television personality and political gadfly Tareq Salahi (R) said on Tuesday he’d run for Wolf’s seat, and Virginia Delegate Barbara Comstock (R), Virginia Delegate Tim Hugo (R) and Virginia state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R) could also be interested in running.

Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust (D) has already announced a bid for the seat, though it’s possible others will jump in as well.

The retirements of Matheson and Wolf are another blow to the dwindling ranks of House centrists.

Matheson and Wolf are bipartisan deal-makers with records of bucking their parties, and they drew praise from across the aisle following their announcements.

“During my 37 years in the United States Congress, I’d be hard pressed to name someone who I’ve enjoyed serving alongside of more than Jim Matheson. While we didn’t agree on everything, you always knew that Jim was doing what he sincerely felt was best for our state,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said of Matheson.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) called Wolf “a vocal advocate for human rights around the world and a tireless champion of federal workers” and praised his fellow Appropriations Committee member’s work to support American manufacturing.

Wolf stirred controversy with a 2011 floor speech criticizing Americans for Tax Reform head Grover Norquist. In the speech, he said Republicans had “reached a point where one person’s demand for ideological purity is paralyzing Congress to the point that even a discussion of tax reform is viewed as breaking a no-tax pledge.”

The soft-spoken Latham, an ally of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has also criticized Norquist.

“Our problems are too big to worry about a guy like that,” he said in late 2012.

Matheson, the son of a popular former Utah governor, was the only Democrat in Utah’s delegation and voted against ObamaCare and for its repeal on multiple occasions. He also refused to vote for Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) to be Speaker in both 2010 and 2012. 

Some think Matheson could run for governor in the future, or against Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

Matheson is a former head of the Blue Dog Democrats, a group that has shrunk from 54 members before the 2010 election to 15 currently in Congress.

Blake Neff contributed.