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.
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