Some retirements reverberate more than others

Updated
The U.S. Capitol building and dome on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013.
The U.S. Capitol building and dome on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013.
Photo by Bill Clark/Getty Images
Because congressional incumbents generally enjoy a major advantage, party leaders on both sides like to keep retirements to a minimum, especially going into a difficult cycle. But over the last 24 hours, House Republicans have seen a couple of notable members bow out.
 
First, in California
GOP Rep. Gary Miller of California will not seek reelection, he announced on Wednesday – a decision that is almost certain to hand the seat he’s held for eight terms to the Democrats.
 
Miller, who holds a seat on the House Financial Services Committee, faced an uphill path to reelection in a San Bernardino-area district that favors Democrats….. Miller had drawn several serious Democratic opponents, including Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes and former Rep. Joe Baca. President Barack Obama carried the district by 16-point margins in 2012 and 2008, and many Democrats believed the seat was theirs for the taking.
… and then in the state of Washington.
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, announced Thursday that he won’t seek reelection in 2014.
 
“Last Friday, I celebrated my 73rd birthday, and while I have the ability and seniority to continue serving Central Washington, it is time for the voters to choose a new person with new energy to represent them in the people’s House,” Hastings said in a statement.
In terms of gauging the significance of these and other retirements, there’s the obvious concern about a member’s stature on Capitol Hill. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), for example, recently announced he won’t seek another term, and since he’s one of the most effective legislators of his generation, he takes an enormous amount of institutional knowledge with him.
 
But then there’s the question of electoral impact.
 
Democrats face tough odds in their effort to reclaim the House majority – they’d need a net gain of 17 seats – but their task grows slightly easier when a Republican in a competitive district steps down.
 
Miller, for example, represents a district that seems likely to flip from “red” to “blue.” Hastings represents a district Mitt Romney won by 22 points, so the DCCC will likely adjust its expectations accordingly.
 
It’s why the list of retirements may appear somewhat misleading at first blush. As of this afternoon, for example, there are 18 House members retiring, and 11 of the 18 are Republicans. Similarly, 12 House members are giving up their seat to run for statewide office, and 9 of the 12 are Republicans.
 
Some Democrats might see this as heartening – “With so many Republicans giving up their seats, look at all the pick-up opportunities!” – but they’d be wise to keep that sentiment in check. Most of these departing House members represent districts that lean heavily in the GOP’s direction.
 
There are exceptions, such as Miller, but let’s also not forget that there are some Democratic incumbents who are retiring, including Utah’s Jim Matheson and North Carolina’s Mike McIntyre, whose districts are almost certain to flip the other direction, from “blue” to “red.”
 
Also, you might be curious if the number of retirements is unusually high. At this point, no – so far in this Congress, 18 House members have announced their retirement and 6 senators have done the same. Looking back over the last decade or so, neither number is especially remarkable. Averaging the five preceding Congresses, we’ve seen about 19 House retirements and 7 Senate retirements per Congress.
 
This year’s totals may yet grow, but so far, the figures look fairly routine.
 

Some retirements reverberate more than others

Updated