Democrats Heading For The Exits

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 17, 2009

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In the run-up to any Congressional election cycle, seasoned observers make sure to take note of the number of retirements from Congress, and which party is seeing more of its members retire. From the looks of things, Democrats are outstripping Republicans in the retirement department:

Two Dem retirements in competitive districts have given GOPers new hopes that a wave of open seats can hand them new opportunities. Now, GOP strategists are putting extra pressure on more than a dozen Dem lawmakers, hoping to convince them to retire rather than face difficult re-elections.

An informal list of 17 members the NRCC believes can be convinced to step down, privately called the “Dem Retirement Assault List,” makes clear the party needs Dem incumbents to step aside if they have hopes of taking back the majority. The NRCC has taken pains to attack those lawmakers in recent weeks.

The list includes 14 members whose districts voted for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in ’08. McCain won districts held by Reps. Ike Skelton (D-MO) and Bart Gordon (D-TN) with more than 60% of the vote, and districts held by Reps. Rick Boucher (D-VA), Alan Mollohan (D-WV), Marion Berry (D-AR), Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Mike Ross (D-AR) with more than 55%.

McCain narrowly won seats held by Reps. John Spratt (D-SC), Allen Boyd (D-FL), Vic Snyder (D-AR), Baron Hill (D-IN), Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), Tim Holden (D-PA) and Collin Peterson (D-MN).
The NRCC has also begun targeting Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Leonard Boswell (D-IA), three members who already have credible opponents but who occupy seats Pres. Obama won in ’08.

“Applying constant pressure in combination with the looming threat of a credible challenge is what should make every single one of these guys think twice,” said a GOP strategist involved in targeting the Dems.

Democrats are working to stem their retirements, but in the current political environment, one cannot help but wonder how successful they will be. Meanwhile, Michael Barone explains the significance of it all:

The question now is whether more Democrats of this ilk will choose to retire — something House Democratic leaders have been working to prevent. They’re very much aware that Republicans in 1994 won some 21 open seats in which Democratic incumbents did not seek re-election, nearly half the 52 seats the Republicans gained when they won control of the House that year.

Public opinion expresses itself in the legislative process in various ways. Democrats’ current large majority in the House, which has enabled them to pass unpopular cap-and-trade and health care legislation, is largely the product of public discontent with George W. Bush’s perceived nonfeasance on Katrina in 2005 and perceived malfeasance in Iraq in 2005 and later.

These four decisions to retire, and similar decisions by other Democrats that may come, seem (for all disclaimers of personal reasons) to be the product of public discontent with the policies of the Obama administration and congressional Democratic leaders in 2009. Such discontent, perceptible only in the Jacksonian belt last year, has now clearly spread to the suburbs of major metropolitan areas.

The odds are still against Republicans picking up the 41 seats they need for a House majority. But it’s interesting that when Massachusetts Democrat Michael Capuano, fresh from a second-place finish in the primary for Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat, was asked to tell the Democratic caucus what he had learned on the campaign trail, he replied in two words: “You’re screwed.” How many of those listening decided that it would be a good idea to spend more time with the family after 2010?

As if on cue . . .

Less than a year after Inauguration Day, support for the Democratic Party continues to slump, amid a difficult economy and a wave of public discontent, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

The findings underscored how dramatically the political landscape has changed during the Obama administration’s first year. In January, despite the recession and financial crisis, voters expressed optimism about the future, the new president enjoyed soaring approval ratings, and congressional leaders promised to swiftly pass his ambitious agenda.

In December’s survey, for the first time, less than half of Americans approved of the job President Barack Obama was doing, marking a steeper first-year fall for this president than his recent predecessors.

Also for the first time this year, the electorate was split when asked which party it wanted to see in charge after the 2010 elections. For months, a clear plurality favored Democratic control.

The survey suggests that public discontent with Mr. Obama and his party is being driven by an unusually grim view of the country’s status and future prospects.

A majority of Americans believe the U.S. is in decline. And a plurality now say the U.S. will be surpassed by China in 20 years as the top power.

As I continue to maintain, we are a long way from Election Day, 2010. But I doubt I am the only one who thinks that we will see more Democrats retiring, rather than facing Republican opposition in the upcoming midterm elections.

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