Hurd retirement leaves GOP gloomy on 2020

Republicans are growing more pessimistic about their odds of taking back the House majority after the surprise news Thursday that Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdFirst Democrat jumps into key Texas House race to challenge Gonzales Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Congress drawn into pipeline cyberattack, violence in Israel MORE (Texas), the only African American GOP lawmaker in the House, is retiring.

Hurd is the sixth House Republican and the third from the critical state of Texas to announce his departure, dampening GOP hopes for 2020.

Republicans would need to gain either 18 or 19 seats to win back the House majority. The precise total depends on the outcome of a race for a North Carolina district.

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Now they will also have to hold on to Hurd’s district, which The Cook Political Report quickly moved from “Toss Up” to “Lean Democratic.”

It’s likely to be an uphill climb and at a minimum will mean spending more money to win an open seat.

Hurd is the third Republican from Texas to announce his retirement, following fellow Reps. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm If Congress can't work together to address child hunger we're doomed Ex-Rep. Mike Conaway, former aide launch lobbying firm MORE and Pete OlsonPeter (Pete) Graham OlsonHouse Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit Republican Fort Bend County Sheriff wins Texas House seat 10 bellwether House races to watch on election night MORE.

“These retirements are costing Republicans real money next fall,” said one GOP strategist, explaining the party will have to shift money to the district to save it.

Hurd held on to his seat by less than 1 percentage point during the 2018 midterms.

One GOP House member said the open seats are adding to the GOP’s challenge in winning back the House.

“It just requires a strong candidate and some additional resources, frankly, to build name ID and to deal with that because you aren’t the incumbent — that does make it harder to hold the seat, which is why you're seeing from the shift in The Cook Political Report and some of those,” the member said.

“The question is, can we gather the additional resources, raise the additional funds necessary to support that while also continuing the efforts to win the majority?” the member said. “History is not kind on this.”

Some Republicans downplayed the importance of Hurd’s retirement while acknowledging it was bad news.

“Obviously no one likes to see thoughtful members retire, but only retirement of members in swing districts have a material impact on which party has the majority,” said Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsTrump to Pence on Jan. 6: 'You don't have the courage' Trump said whoever leaked information about stay in White House bunker should be 'executed,' author claims 'Just say we won,' Giuliani told Trump aides on election night: book MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

He said the GOP should be optimistic about its chances of winning back the House if Democrats make a liberal candidate their presidential nominee against President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Arkansas governor says it's 'disappointing' vaccinations have become 'political' Watch live: Trump attends rally in Phoenix MORE.

“Based on Democratic debate performances and the highly partisan and overtly political hearings conducted by the House majority, Republicans have reason to be optimistic,” he said.

National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spokesman Michael McAdams said retirements are inevitable and that the GOP’s campaign arm is ready for a 2020 fight.

“It's unfortunate to lose very talented folks like Will Hurd, like [Rep.] Martha RobyMartha Dubina RobyLobbying world House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit The year of the Republican woman MORE [R-Ala.]. The list goes on. But that's part of life,” McAdams said. “And I think we are doing a great job on the recruitment front. I mean, every race is competitive, but you’ve got to do different things for different places. And I think there's going to be a fight [in Hurd’s district] for sure. But it's not a proven conclusion that the seat is going to be a Democratic seat.”

Other Republicans, speaking on background to give a candid account of the 2020 race for the House, said retirements such as Hurd’s are difficult because they effectively raise the bar on the number of seats the GOP will need to gain in 2020.

It’s easier to survive a retirement in a relatively safe district, one Republican said, than in Hurd’s district.

“When [former Rep. Jed] Hensarling [R-Texas] retires or when Mike Conaway retires, that's fine. That's normal turnover. But when Pete Olson or Will Hurd retire, especially Will Hurd, that's very different,” the source told The Hill. 

Gina Ortiz Jones, the Democrat defeated by Hurd last year, is running again in 2020 and has already raised campaign funds and broadened her name recognition.

“They need to find someone yesterday,” the source said of Republicans. 

Democrats are expected to inject money into the race to win Hurd’s seat. It’s part of a broad effort to win seats in Texas. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) announced earlier this year that it was opening a Texas office.

“While [NRCC] Chairman [Tom] Emmer [R-Minn.] and Leader [Kevin] McCarthy [R-Calif.] desperately beg their colleagues not to retire, Democrats are raising the resources we need to protect and expand this majority,” DCCC Chairwoman Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosRockford mayor decides against 2022 run for Bustos's House seat Advocacy groups urge Pelosi, Schumer to keep Pentagon funding out of infrastructure bills Nearly 70 House lawmakers ask leadership to reimburse National Guard for Jan. 6 response MORE (D-Ill.) said in a statement.

The DCCC was the subject of negative headlines earlier this week after a number of staff members resigned under calls from lawmakers for more diversity in the organization.

Some Republicans pointed to that as a disadvantage for Democrats in the coming race.

“Anytime you don’t have your strategic vision laid out and the people in place to execute it, that’s a real tough disadvantage for them,” one Texas Republican strategist told The Hill.

But while the week began with evidence of Democratic division, it ended with a retirement that could cost Republicans a swing district, potentially making the climb to a majority a seat steeper.