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House: More GOP Retirements on the Way?

On a practical level, today's retirement announcement by Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R) has little effect on the fight for the majority this November.

Bill Thomas
Democrats aren't likely to pick up California Rep. Bill Thomas's decidedly conservative 22nd District. (Getty Images)

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.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 6, 2006; 2:28 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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Comments

Putting Ben Nelson (D, Nebraska) on the list "Because we just couldn't ignore President Bush's 33-point victory in the Cornhusker State in 2004 or Nelson's narrow margin over a lackluster candidate in 2000" is reasonable from a non-Nebraska viewpoint.

However, studying the state's recent politics shows that Nebraskans are remarkably less partisan in state-wide officeholder elections than raw figures show. Both current senators (Hagel and Nelson) are "mavericks" for their particular parties -- and Nebraska voters prefer mavericks over party-line candidates in most state-wide elections. Thus if the choice is between a party-line Republican and a maverick Democrat, the Democrat has a much stronger chance than expected. (See the career of Senator J.James Exon as a precurser to Nelson.)

Posted by: S. Nowlan | March 10, 2006 12:10 PM | Report abuse

My only question is this Chris, if after the Dems get a majority, and actually start convening some committees to initiate some REAL investigations, do these individuals who are retiring just get a pass? I can't help but think that the head of the Ways and Means didn't find a way to increase his own means, and I can't help but think that if there were some honest investigations, alot of heads would roll; so back to the initial question--are these gentlemen just getting out while the getting is good?

Posted by: cynubie | March 7, 2006 6:02 PM | Report abuse

That was a great South Park, and Chewbacca Defense is certainly a much cooler way of saying "red herring."

Interesting connection, actually, between those two consecutive comments, as the Chewbacca defense was a mockery of Johnnie Cochran's defense of OJ.

Is OJ a democrat? Even if he is there's still a subtle difference between he and Gary Condit, that being that Gary Condit DIDN'T DO IT!!!

Man how I wish we could go back to the days when the biggest home grown threats we had to worry about were politicians covering up affairs with interns and Anne Heche's conversations with aliens. Now we've got politicians in bed with lobbyists and red necks on the border worried about a different kind of alien.

I pray that we have some retirements in "competitive" districts, 'cause this country's goin' the wrong way for a spanked bottom.

Posted by: Petitio Principii | March 7, 2006 1:54 AM | Report abuse

Petitio, you forgot abt the Chewbacca defense. Must be the 3rd sign.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | March 6, 2006 10:09 PM | Report abuse

Maybe since this seat is in California we can expect to see a Democratic primary between Gary Condit and OJ Simpson

Posted by: Youdontspeakformecindy | March 6, 2006 9:58 PM | Report abuse

Chris,

What are the odds of Shaw retiring? If he does, is FL state Sen. Ron Klein (D) a slam-dunk?

Posted by: FL-22 | March 6, 2006 8:11 PM | Report abuse

Wow, I was just about to post a comment when I happened to read the last comment and notice that it was almost identical to mine. To elaborate: begging the question is a type of fallacy. Unfortunately it has been incorrectly adopted as interchangeable with "raises the question." Used colloquially this irks me, but not enough to warrant comment. But coming from a political analyst it's somewhat more bothersome. Political discourse is where logical fallacies go to frolic and run free, and anyone who is a professional in the field should know them. I fear that someday soon "red herring" will refer to a communist fish, and "slippery slope" to a muddy hillside. As those are the last two signs of the Apocalypse, it won’t really matter at that point. Until then, keep up the otherwise good work.

Posted by: Petitio Principii | March 6, 2006 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Chris said: 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.

Chris, you should consult Gene Weingarten re the correct use of "begs the question." Your misuse of that phrase here is one of his pet peeves. I'm sure he'd be glad to set you straight.

(Aside from this glitch, however, I do like your work.)

Posted by: THS | March 6, 2006 4:40 PM | Report abuse

The so called safe districts for Republicans may get caught up in a tsunami with the retiring of noted incumbents such as Bill Thomas. They may not be as safe as gerrymandering and previous historical trends suggest. The GOP is carry a lot of heavy baggage.

http://www.intrepidliberaljournal.blogspot.com

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal | March 6, 2006 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Bill Thomas' district is so overwhelmingly GOP that no Democrat will seriously compete for the district. It would be seriously foolish for Dean Florez to do so.

As far as retirements go, Sherwood Boehlert is definitely the main one to watch.

Also, with Katherine Harris' senate campaign imploding, if Rep. Mark Foley were to step up to the plate with his sizable warchest, his seat would definitely be in play. I don't think Foley would really have much of a chance at Nelson, though, and Dems would be better off with a new recruit in his district if that happened because the guy they have now is kinda lackluster...

Posted by: seank | March 6, 2006 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Bill Thomas' district is so overwhelmingly GOP that no Democrat will seriously compete for the district. It would be seriously foolish for Dean Florez to do so.

As far as retirements go, Sherwood Boehlert is definitely the main one to watch.

Also, with Katherine Harris' senate campaign imploding, if Rep. Mark Foley were to step up to the plate with his sizable warchest, his seat would definitely be in play. I don't think Foley would really have much of a chance at Nelson, though, and Dems would be better off with a new recruit in his district if that happened because the guy they have now is kinda lackluster...

Posted by: seank | March 6, 2006 3:20 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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