By Peter Savodnik - 03/01/06 12:00 AM EST
House Republicans have limited most of their retirements to conservatives in solidly red districts and a handful of statewide-office seekers, but political analysts say 10 to 15 more Republicans could announce in the coming months that they are stepping down.
With the president’s approval ratings between 35 and 40 percent, the unrest in Iraq and GOP scandals still problems for Republicans in polls, the number of possible Democratic pickups looks to be growing.
“If you look at past experience, it would suggest that you tend not to get a last-minute rush” of retirements, said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “But I don’t know if that’s going to be the case this time. I think that actually the scandals, the problems, the headaches may cause a number of people two or three months from now to decide that maybe it’s time for a change, maybe they need to spend more time with their families. … I think we could see up to 40.”
For now, there are 25 open seats. Sixteen of those are held by Republicans, eight are held by Democrats and one is vacant and was previously held by a Republican.
In the past two weeks, Reps. Joel Hefley (Colo.) and William Jenkins (Tenn.), both Republicans, announced they will not seek another term.
Amy Walter, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report, observed that in August 1993 there were three Democratic open seats. By March that had jumped to 22 and by July to 30.
The critical question, Walter said, is whether there will be a similar cascade of Republican retirements in 2006 and, just as important, whether those retirements are in competitive districts.
“The folks who have announced recently, Bill Jenkins and Hefley, those are very Republican districts,” Walter said. “To me, that doesn’t count in the category of the dominos are starting to fall.”
The Cook Political Report rates three House Democratic open-seat races as competitive and one a tossup, in the district of Ohio Rep. Ted Strickland. The report rates 10 House Republican open-seat races as competitive, with three tossups — seats now held by Reps. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, Bob Beauprez of Colorado and Jim Nussle of Iowa.
Republicans are favored in the April race to replace Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), but only slightly.
Some say that House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) will not seek reelection. Boehlert spokesman Sam Marchio said the congressman, in his 12th term, will announce in mid-March whether he will retire.
There was widespread speculation on Capitol Hill yesterday that Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, would announce his retirement next week. Thomas comes from a solidly Republican district that would almost certainly stay in the GOP column. His office declined to comment.
The Democratic campaign aide ridiculed the House Republican reelection strategy. Referring to the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, the aide said: “Tom Reynolds is literally begging people not to retire. Everything we hear coming out of their side is every caucus [meeting] is a lecture from Tom Reynolds begging people not to retire, saying, ‘Please stay, please stay, please stay.’”
NRCC press secretary Jonathan Collegio said: “Reynolds has repeatedly appealed to his colleagues to avoid retirements — both in his speeches to the GOP conference, to the public and in his discussions with the news media.”
Republicans scoff at what they refer to as Democratic pipe dreams of picking up the 15 seats they need to win control of the House. They say they have strong candidates in most every open seat.
Republicans are particularly dismissive of Democratic hopes of winning in Illinois-6, which is held by Rep. Henry Hyde (R), and Florida-9, occupied by Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R).
Beauprez, the Republican from Colorado’s 7th District now running for governor, is expected to help Republican Rick O’Donnell win the House seat that Beauprez is vacating, the NRCC’s Collegio said. Collegio explained that Beauprez is likely to “overperform” in the Denver-area district. He also said O’Donnell has a clear field; both the Democrats in the race are well-funded, with one having received the support of EMILY’s List and the other that of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). The primary is in August.
Similarly, Collegio said, Nussle, who is running for governor, would help the eventual GOP nominee there.
Still, there are hundreds of news cycles between now and Election Day — with the distinct possibility of indictments being handed down to House Republicans tied to lobbyist Jack Abramoff and casualties from the Iraq war continuing to mount.
“What’s clear is that these incumbents see the writing on the wall for election 2006, that even while Tom Reynolds begs his members to stay put, this is a good year for Republicans to quietly fade off into the sunset and disappear from politics, not try to fight to stay in it,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said.