Who will control Congress? Home starts create uncertain future for Chamber balance
WASHINGTON — After a bitter and turbulent year on Capitol Hill, nearly forty members of the House of Representatives have announced their retirement from the chamber in 2023.
The departures have created a potential sea change on Capitol Hill. The partisan tilt in retirements, with 26 Democrats leaving office compared to 13 Republicans, has fueled debate among lawmakers and analysts over the ruling party’s prospects of retaining power in the 2022 midterm elections. .
“There’s no question (retirements) are making it harder for Democrats to hold on to a majority for next year. It’s become a bigger threat to the majority than redistricting,” Dave Wasserman said. , an election analyst at the Cook Political Report.
While many Democratic retirements are in districts unlikely to flip parties this year, the vacancy of competitive seats — like Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., and Ron Kind , D-Wis. — can spell trouble for the incumbent party, which would otherwise depend on known local figures to back it through tough election cycles.
“These are Democrats who have what I would consider superior replacement value,” Wasserman said, continuing that candidates like Bustos, Kind and Murphy “have a unique personal appeal in their districts that makes it difficult for their successors. Democrats to try to reproduce”.
Last week, Reps. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., and Bobby Rush, D-Ill., also announced they would step down from their seats in Detroit and Chicago, respectively. The vacancies have already sparked vigorous primaries in majority black and Democratic-leaning districts.
“The Democratic retirements we are seeing come as no surprise. The silver lining is that most of them are in safe or uncompetitive Democratic districts,” said Tim Hogan, a Democratic strategist.
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Why are so many members of Congress retiring?
Legislators’ justifications for retiring vary widely. The decade-long congressional redistricting process, when states redraw the lines of state and federal districts for lawmakers, has put some members in jeopardy.
Fear of an explosion similar to that of 2010, when Democrats lost a net 63 seats, haunts the party. Retirements in competitive precincts, coupled with aggressive Republican gerrymandering in redistricting, shocked the party in the early Obama years, a defeat party strategists are determined to avoid in November.
This year, the Democrats’ own aggressive gerrymanders in Illinois, Maryland and New York, coupled with a fierce pushback from GOP gerrymandering and state court intervention, have blunted the worst-case scenario for the party.
“I don’t think redistricting is as big a story for the 2022 election as several other factors,” said David Polyansky, Republican strategist at Axiom Strategies, a conservative political consulting firm. “This whole story is going to unfold over a decade, not an election cycle.”
Low morale in the Democratic caucus has also led some lawmakers to consider retirement. Several Democrats told USA TODAY that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and subsequent threats from pro-Trump supporters made them rethink whether they wanted to stay in Congress.
“I think a big question mark is how many retirements will take place,” said Matt Terrill, Republican strategist at Firehouse Strategies, a conservative political consulting firm. While the GOP may enjoy some perceived momentum heading into the fall, Terrill said, “we’re still a long way here” from the election.
Republicans point to Democratic retirements, as well as a vibrant conservative base, as evidence that the GOP is likely to take over the lower house this year.
“Democrats continue to stumble over policy, politics, even basic messaging, and Republicans have done a good job of letting it all play out,” Polansky said.
Polansky argued that Democrats have done a poor job of communicating their policies, such as Biden’s sweeping climate and social spending agenda, while the public remains concerned about the ongoing pandemic and the state of the economy, among other problems.
“For some reason they focused on the importance of massive federal spending, but never told people what they were buying. It’s bad in ordinary times. This is unthinkable in the midst of an economic crisis,” Polansky said.
Safe blue open seats present challenges, opportunities
Yet the vacancies also present Democrats with an opportunity to freshen up their roster of lawmakers at a time when the party’s young and diverse base yearns for a new generation.
“There is an opportunity for the Democratic Party to help grow its bench in Congress by having competitive races in these seats,” Hogan said, saying the seats vacated by Bustos, Murphy and Kind were always going to be tough climbs. for the party.
“We were going to have to compete with them regardless, and they don’t feel out of reach,” said Hogan, the Democratic strategist. “I think that’s the big difference between what we saw in 2010 and what we see in 2022.”
“We’re looking at a very, very narrow strip of the House that’s likely to be competitive, and it depends heavily on how the district lines are drawn,” Wasserman said. States that used a neutral redistricting process, such as Arizona, California, Colorado and Michigan, have more competitive races than states like Illinois or Texas, where one party controlled the process, a- he continued.
Several states employ independent redistricting commissions that draw lines without the influence of elected officials with a stake in the outcome, such as governors and the state legislature.
“You can’t say for sure that redistricting is going to have a net positive effect for Democrats, but those 2010 maps were so awful that I think we’ve made progress in 2022,” Hogan said, referring to Gerrymanders. Republicans in several states who often broke the influence of urban voters.
Democrats found they were able to defeat many of these gerrymanders in the 2018 midterm elections, when many suburbs backed the party.
Wasserman is confident Republicans are favored to win the House, though much still depends on how voters feel about key issues, like the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the economy and President Joe Biden in November.
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Among Republicans, 13 lawmakers will leave the House. Most of those retirements will be lawmakers seeking statewide positions.
Of the 26 Democrats retiring from Congress, eight are seeking mayor, senator or governor.
“Republican retirements are mostly coming from safe neighborhoods,” Wasserman said, meaning there’s little scope for Democrats to benefit from the departures.
In contrast, several Democrats leaving Congress have launched campaigns for statewide office, including Reps. Conor Lamb, D-Penn., Tim Ryan, D-Ohio and Charlie Crist, D-Fla. Each occupies a district that will be heavily modified or eliminated in this year’s redistricting.
The four remaining House Republicans, including Reps. Tom Reed, RN.Y., Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., and Anthony Gonzales, R-Ohio, are either at risk from a redistricting or facing re-election campaigns difficult after their opposition to Trump. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., said he would retire to honor a term limit commitment he made early in his term in Congress.
Political consultants and election analysts who spoke to USA TODAY agreed that the number of retirements this year is consistent with a medium to medium-term cycle.
While the number and composition of retirements on both sides of the aisle show a clear trend, who ultimately controls Congress next year will come down to future retirements, the public assessment of major issues and the country’s overall assessment of the Biden administration and Congress. There are still several months to wait for each of these factors to crystallize.
“When there is so much work against the party that is in power, like right now, then the party that is not in power, for all its faults, has a tremendous opportunity,” said Jean Card, co-chair of RightNOW Women. PAC, a conservative group that supports Republican female candidates.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t screw it up, obviously,” Card warned. “I think both sides are in very bad shape.”
Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.
Contributor: Ledyard King
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: House: Democratic pensions mean an uncertain future for the majority