House: More GOP Retirements on the Way?
Thomas's Bakersfield-area 22nd District is strongly Republican (it gave President George W. Bush 68 percent in 2004) and is not likely to be seriously fought for by Democrats this fall.
But Thomas is the third House Republican to announce his retirement in the past several weeks, joining Reps. Joel Hefley (Colo.) and Bill Jenkins (Tenn.) on the sidelines this November. While none of the three recently vacated seats is viewed as a ripe pick-up opportunity for Democrats, collectively the retirements beg the question as to whether Republicans in more competitive seats may also decide to leave Congress as they face reelection races in a decidedly inhosptiable national environment.
Carl Forti, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, cast the retirements of Thomas, Jenkins and Hefley as a positive sign for House Republicans. "It shows that members in swing districts are hearing the message and not retiring," said Forti. He added that NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) is working to convince members on the fence about retirement to run for another term "all the time."
Forti's counterpart at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- Sarah Feinberg -- said Thomas's departure is a sign of things to come. "If you are a Republican incumbent this is a good year to get out of politics not fight like a dog to stay in it."
Thomas is the 25th House member to make a retirement announcement this cycle -- 16 are Republicans compared to nine Democrats. That total is well below the average number of departures in the last decade -- 35. Prior to 1996, retirements were even more common, with 48 members stepping aside in 1994 and a whopping 65 in 1992. At this time last cycle, 27 House members had announced their retirements.
Given historical patterns, another handful of members should bow out in the coming weeks and months. At the moment, the only Republican openly considering retirement is Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, who has represented the Upstate New York 24th District since 1982. If Boehlert decides to step down, expect a competitive race, although Bush outperformed his 40 percent statewide showing in 2004 by thirteen points in Boehlert's district.
The raw number of retirements matters much less in the struggle for control than where the retirements come from. If Republicans lose five (or even ten) more members who represent comparatively safe districts like those of Thomas, Jenkins and Hefley, it isn't likely to endanger the party's 15-seat majority. But if the retirements come from the likes of Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) or Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) -- both of whom are seen as long-shot candidates to replace Thomas as Ways and Means chairman -- it could make a Democratic House takeover a more realistic possibility.
An interesting sidenote: At this time two years ago, Louisiana Rep. Jim McCrery (R) was seriously considering retiring from the House. McCrery decided to stay and has become the clear frontrunner to replace Thomas at the helm of Ways and Means.
Back in California's 22nd, state Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy and state Sen. Roy Ashburn are possible candidates for the GOP nomination to succeed Thomas, while state Sen. Dean Florez is seen as the best candidate for Democrats.
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