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Kolbe Retirement: A Sign of Things to Come?

Arizona Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe last week announced he plans to retire from Congress at the end of his current term, becoming the 13th House Republican set to retire after the 109th Congress adjourns.

Kolbe said his decision was based on two major factors: He is term-limited as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, and he had grown tired of the increased partisanship in the chamber.

Kolbe's 8th congressional district, which encompasses much of southeastern Arizona, will be contested by both parties. President Bush won it by seven points in 2004, but even Kolbe had acknowledged it will be a tough hold for his party.

In a broader context, the retirement of Kolbe -- a leading party moderate -- could be read as evidence supporting claims made by Democrats that President Bush's struggles are starting to take a toll on congressional Republicans.

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said recently that "if you are a moderate Republican you are saying to yourself: 'I am not going to follow Bush over the cliff.'"

Republicans have repeatedly dismissed the idea that the current political climate, which they acknowledge is far from favorable, has or will be the decisive factor in any GOP lawmaker's -- moderate or otherwise -- decision to leave Congress next year.

"Retirements have not been bad," said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.).

Let's take a quick look back at retirements during that last election cycle for perspective on Reynolds's assertion. By February 2004, 25 House Members (10 Democrats, 15 Republicans) had decided to either step aside or run for higher office.  Of those seats, nine (4 Democrat, 5 Republican) wound up being seriously contested by the two parties last November, with four (2 Democrat, 2 Republican) switching parties on Election Day. Of the 21 total retirements so far in the 2006 cycle, ten seats (3 Democrat, 7 Republican) look likely to be up for grabs come November 2006.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) has been predicting for weeks that a number of Republicans will reconsider running again next year after they spend considerable time at home over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Whether or not many GOP lawmakers decide to retire between now and January will have major implications on the fight for control of the House, which at this point still seems safe for Republicans.

Here's a handful of House Republicans to watch between now and early next year:  Sherwood Boehlert (N.Y.), David Dreier (Calif.), Bill Young (Fla.), James Walsh (N.Y.) and Ralph Regula (Ohio). Again, The Fix is not saying these members will retire, only that if they should it could be a sign of growing problems for Republicans in 2006.

Any other suggestions on GOPers who might be weighing retirement?  Post in the comments section or send me an e-mail.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 28, 2005; 11:55 AM ET
Categories:  House  
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Next: Rep. Cunningham Enters Guilty Plea, Resigns


It would be interesting to define MODERATE REPUBLICAN. Here's my definition: (1) Person never identified with Democrats in general but thinks issues affecting total US population are more important than ideology-based partisanship, (2) Is far more introspective and reasonable than a GOP wing-nut, (3) Is Pro-Choice, (4) Upholds separation of Church and State as a personal working principle, i.e. keeps religion contained as a personal matter, (5) Believes politicians and citizens should express views freely and not be subject to counter-attack that is personal rather than issue-based, (6) Comes from a State or District with a significant portion of voters having college degrees and who are urban dwellers, (7) Is appalled by the Bush/Rove/Cheney/Rumsfeld operating style of his current party leaders, particularly with respect to their delusions and their misrepresentations on Iraq,(8) Believes medical science should receive appropriate government funding for embryonic stem cell research in effort to cure/alleviate dread diseases without interference from the Bible Thumpers in the Executive and Legislative Branches of the US Government, and (9) favors fiscal responsibility and restraint in public spending.

Posted by: Bill | November 29, 2005 10:13 AM | Report abuse

I second Virgil Goode. He will be in the headlines as soon as Cunningham leaves them...

Posted by: BK | November 28, 2005 11:36 PM | Report abuse

I would add recently elected Mean Jean Schmidt if Hackett drops out of Governors race for a rematch, Bob Ney of Ohio,and even Virgil Goode of Va which is a story yet to get major publicity but will soon be on the front pages. Others that may retire or move on are Clay Shaw of Fl who has health problems and Kathlees Harris seat in FL.

Posted by: db | November 28, 2005 10:21 PM | Report abuse

What swing to Republicans in 2004? With Bush winning the presidency, yes. With Republicans gaining 2 Senate seats, maybe a small one (nothing like 1994 when they gained 8). But in the House (where they gained 52 seats in 1994)?? The only reason why Republicans made a net increase in their number of seats was because of Tom DeLay's partisan, mid-decade redistricting of Texas' congressional map. Ignore Texas, and the Democrats actually GAINED 2 seats in the House in 2004.

Cook and Rothenberg have both written that Republicans' hold on the House is in more jeopardy than Chris apparently thinks. Not that this is remotely an objective issue, but just to note that other informed, experienced observers differ in their assessment.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | November 28, 2005 4:13 PM | Report abuse


Thanks for the link to the Syracuse article, I found it very informative.


Posted by: Jason | November 28, 2005 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I don't think the House can be regarded as "safe" for Republicans with a) such a slim majority and b) an increasingly unpopular GOP. I appreciate that partisan redistricting reduces competitive seats, but lets remember a majority of 100 didn't protect the Democrats in 1994.

Over this side of the pond, we talk about the concept of "swing": the change in popular support needed to turn the House of Commons or any other partisan institution from one party to another.

This concept doesn't apply so relevantly in the US because of the vastly greater size and the particular issues that drive state contests - but it shouldn't be dismissed entirely: there was clearly a national swing to the GOP in 1994 and 2004, and one to the Dems in 1998 and 2002.

Even taking into account the acute GOP problems in Ohio, the swing in the recent House special election was way beyond anything needed for the Dems to regain the House.

Posted by: Adam | November 28, 2005 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Chris--There was a story on Jim Walsh in Rochester's Democrat & Chronicle this past Saturday. In it, Mr. Walsh spoke about his ambitions to become Chair of the full Appropriations Committee when Rep. Lewis steps down in 2010. It doesn't seem likely that he will resign any time soon.

Posted by: David | November 28, 2005 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Chris- There was something in the Syracuse Post-Standard this past Sunday on Upstate Republicans Jim Walsh, Sherwood Boehlert and John McHugh and their roles as moderates in the House. Fix readers can find it here:

Posted by: Paul | November 28, 2005 1:04 PM | Report abuse

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