Both parties are watching to see who’s next after three senior House Democrats announced their retirements in the past week.
Reps. David Price (N.C.) and Mike Doyle (Pa.) said Monday they won’t run again, six days after Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.) said the current 117th Congress would be his last. Price heads the House Appropriations Transportation-HUD Subcommittee, Doyle is chair of Energy and Commerce’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, and Yarmuth leads the Budget Committee.
A brisk run of powerful incumbents opting against seeking another term has in past midterm cycles signaled a difficult cycle for the party in power. Democrats, defending against a serious Republican campaign to take the chamber in 2022, said these particular retirements aren’t worrisome, but others from the party campaign committee’s list of most vulnerable would be.
“More problematic are battleground retirements, and obviously we have a couple of those,” said Ian Russell, a consultant and former deputy executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “But if there’s additional Frontliners retiring, that becomes a much bigger challenge for the DCCC.”
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Twelve Democrats and nine Republicans in the House have said they won’t run for re-election. Seven of the Democrats are leaving and not running for a different office, while five others are seeking another elected office. Three Republicans are retiring and six others are running for other jobs.
Yarmuth, Doyle, and Price all represent strongly Democratic districts and probably would have won re-election easily even after redistricting. All three are also at retirement age—Price is 81 years old, Yarmuth is 73, and Doyle is 68.
“I’m ready for somebody to step up to the plate and start fresh,” Doyle said at a press conference Monday. With redistricting likely to expand his district outside Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), he said “this is a good transition time for a new member to start in a new district.”
Russell said because none of the three senior Democrats was in danger of losing their seats, their decisions to retire are “more about the trajectory of their personal careers than any larger discussion of the state of the Democratic Party heading into the midterms.”
Still, Republicans are looking big picture and say House Democrats are leaving because they know their majority is at risk. Republicans need a net gain of five seats to overturn the Democratic majority, a push likely to be aided by the party’s positioning in redistricting, and the party opposing the White House almost always makes gains in midterm elections.
“House Democrats can see the writing on the wall and know their majority is doomed,” Michael McAdams, the communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in an e-mail.
DCCC spokesman Chris Taylor said despite the retirements, Democrats will do well in the midterms thanks to strong fundraising and beginning to organize earlier.
“Incumbent or not, we’re confident in our ability to win the House yet again,” Taylor said in a statement. “While voters see Democratic members and candidates focused on rebooting the economy and getting folks back on the job, Republicans are campaigning on junk science that is endangering people’s lives and false election claims that threaten our democracy.”
What to Watch
Ahead of the 2010 election, when Republicans won the House majority at the midpoint of Barack Obama’s first term, more than a dozen Democrats from battleground districts chose to retire and were succeeded by Republicans.
Republican strategist Ken Spain, who was an NRCC spokesman that year, said Congress is entering peak retirement season and lawmakers tend to announce their retirements after holidays or a long recess at home.
“Anytime a member of Congress walks away from a gavel, that should tell you something,” he said. While he acknowledged members have many reasons for retiring, Spain said it’s “becoming clear to those members who wield a lot of power within the majority that their chances in the midterms are not great.”
More Democratic retirements could hurt the party’s psyche among both lawmakers and donors, Spain said. It could also help the GOP not only secure the House majority, but be able to focus attention and resources on taking back the Senate.
“In two months, it could be viewed that Republicans are a virtual lock to win the House,” Spain said.
Jared Leopold, a Democratic consultant, said redistricting cycles are usually a time for many retirements as lawmakers seek to avoid the awkwardness of running against each other, or the work of establishing themselves to new voters drawn into their districts. He also said most of the House retirements have either been from lawmakers like Yarmuth from safe seats or those in competitive districts who are simply running for a different office—such as Senate hopefuls Conor Lamb (Pa.) and Tim Ryan (Ohio)— and not running away.
Democratic retirements will become more worrisome if more Democrats from competitive districts begin to retire, Leopold said. Two Democrats who held on to districts Donald Trump won in 2020 have announced they won’t run again: Reps. Ron Kind (Wis.) and Cheri Bustos (Ill.). If more Democrats join them, Leopold said that would be increasingly concerning for the party.
“If you were to see a wave build one way or the other, you’d start seeing some of those people decide it’s not worth running in a competitive seat,” he said. “So far you haven’t seen a lot of that.”