Democrats are bracing for the possibility of a coming wave of retirements as the party comes to grips with a series of ominous electoral losses in Virginia and other states that portend trouble in the 2022 midterms.
Fourteen House Democrats have already announced that they will not seek reelection in 2022. But the painful string of defeats in Tuesday’s off-year elections is stirring speculation that more of the party’s incumbents may be eyeing the exits ahead of the midterms in hopes of avoiding brutal reelection campaigns or being relegated once again to the minority.
Republicans, emboldened by their recent victories, are already firing warning shots at House Democrats. In an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday, Rep. Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerHouse Democratic campaign arm outraises GOP counterpart in final quarter of 2021 House GOP campaign arm rakes in 0M in 2021 GOP optimism grows over possible red wave in 2022 MORE (R-Minn.), the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), gave vulnerable Democratic incumbents an ultimatum: “Retire or lose.”
“I think, before [Tuesday’s elections], there were some members already thinking about it,” one senior Democratic House aide said. “And if they weren’t, I’ll bet you they are now.”
The aide said there is little doubt among Democrats that more retirements are in the pipeline, but how many is still up in the air. While the 2021 elections dealt a blow to the party’s morale, the aide said, many Democrats are hopeful that they can reverse their fortunes by pressing forward on President BidenJoe BidenBiden says he didn't 'overpromise' Finland PM pledges 'extremely tough' sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine Russia: Nothing less than NATO expansion ban is acceptable MORE’s agenda.
Even before Tuesday’s elections, Democrats were staring down the prospect of a difficult midterm election cycle. For one, the decennial redistricting process is expected to bolster the GOP’s numbers in the House.
At the same time, the party of a new president almost always loses ground in Congress in midterm elections. With recent polls showing that a majority of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track and Biden’s approval ratings dropping further underwater, the midterm landscape was already looking grim for Democrats.
Republican Glenn YoungkinGlenn YoungkinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Schumer tees up doomed election reform vote The Memo: Is Trump the GOP's future or in rearview mirror? The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems barrel towards voting rights vote with no outcome MORE scored an upset victory over Terry McAuliffeTerry McAuliffeThe Memo: Is Trump the GOP's future or in rearview mirror? The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems barrel towards voting rights vote with no outcome Trump cutout among pranks left at Executive Mansion for Youngkin MORE in the Virginia governor’s race, while Democrats saw their majority in the commonwealth’s House of Delegates evaporate. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Gov. Phil MurphyPhil MurphyFire breaks out at NJ chemical plant: 'The worst that I've ever seen' Biden administration announces actions bolstering clean energy The Hill's Morning Report - Biden champions filibuster reform, but doesn't have the votes MORE (D) was only narrowly reelected to a second term after a closer-than-expected race against Republican Jack Ciattarelli.
The Democratic losses and the close call in the New Jersey governor’s race has Democrats scrambling to right their political ship.
“Tuesday’s elections are a warning for all Democrats,” Guy Cecil, the chairman of the largest Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, wrote in a post-election memo. “With midterm elections just a year away, we face a difficult set of challenges, some of our own making.”
Those who have already announced retirement plans include senior Democrats like Reps. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleOn The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Hillicon Valley — Biden's misinformation warning Lawmakers call on tech firms to take threat of suicide site seriously, limit its visibility MORE (D-Pa.) and David PriceDavid Eugene PriceWho has the guts to resist authoritarian rule? Clay Aiken running again for Congress because North Carolina representatives 'don't represent me' On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood MORE (D-N.C.), who have both served for decades in the House, and Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthOn the Money — Student borrowers stare down rising prices More than 30 million families to lose child tax credit checks starting this weekend On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood MORE (D-Ky.), the chair of the powerful House Budget Committee, though none of their seats are considered particularly vulnerable.
Not all of the Democrats foregoing reelection bids are retiring from public life. Reps. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsFlorida Democrats call on DeSantis to accept federal help to expand COVID-19 testing Democrats look back on Jan. 6 with emotion Jan. 6 brings Democrats, Cheneys together — with GOP mostly absent MORE (D-Fla.) and Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanJD Vance raises more than million in second fundraising quarter for Ohio Senate bid Republicans must join us to give Capitol Police funding certainty On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood MORE (D-Ohio) are running for Senate seats, while Rep. Charlie CristCharles (Charlie) Joseph CristProtecting seniors from guardianship fraud and abuse DeSantis proposes Florida redistricting map Florida Democrats call on DeSantis to accept federal help to expand COVID-19 testing MORE (D-Fla.) is running for Florida governor, Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassOn The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 For Democrats it should be about votes, not megaphones MORE (D-Calif.) is running for mayor of Los Angeles and Rep. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownFBI informant who reported abuse in LA jails getting M payout Jan. 6 brings Democrats, Cheneys together — with GOP mostly absent Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 MORE (D-Md.) is running for Maryland attorney general.
Some of those House Democrats would have likely faced challenging reelection campaigns. Crist’s district, for instance, appears likely to be redrawn in a way that would make it more competitive for Republicans.
Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist, said that he expects more retirements in the runup to the 2022 midterms. But, he added, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for Democrats, arguing that it paves the way for both a new class of candidates and broader change within the party.
“These things are kind of expected,” Seawright said. “We’re at a place in history where change is almost inevitable – from a policy and politician standpoint. It’s going to happen, and at the end of the day it’s going to be a mixed bag of change.”
“Politics is a game of transitions. I think as the country changes, as our party evolves, I think [retirements] will be reflective of that change,” he added. “It makes room for new leadership. It also makes room for new growth.”
Even so, retirements are often seen as an early sign of pessimism among a party’s incumbents ahead of midterm elections. What’s more, party leaders dread retirements because it is often easier to hold onto a seat when an incumbent is running than it is when the seat is wide open.
Ahead of the 2018 midterms, nearly two dozen GOP House incumbents retired from public office entirely. Democrats eventually went on to gain some 40 seats — and control of the House — that year in what was dubbed a “blue wave.”
Now no longer in power in Washington, Republicans are beginning to tout what they hope will be a coming “red wave” in 2022, pointing to their victories on Tuesday night as an early sign that the tables have turned since four years ago.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyJoining Pelosi, Hoyer says lawmakers should be free to trade stocks Budowsky: To Dems: Run against the do-nothing GOP, Senate Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation MORE (R-Calif.) predicted that his party could flip more than 60 House seats next year and that there would “be a lot of retirements” coming up.
"If you're a Democrat and President Biden won your seat by 16 points, you're in a competitive race next year, you are no longer safe,” McCarthy said.