Rep. Ray LaHood’s (R-Ill.) announcement late last week that he will not run for re-election offered the first glimpse of what could become a retirement conundrum for a House GOP still growing accustomed to the minority.
Publicly, Republican campaign strategists say they feel confident their ranks will hold and they will not see a mass exodus from the House in 2008. From a financial standpoint, the party literally can’t afford to have many openings.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) dismissed suggestions that the GOP’s downgraded status to the minority would lend itself to more retirements heading into next year.
“So far I don’t see us losing Members because we lost the majority,” Cole said, adding that LaHood’s retirement was a “life decision” and not one based on majority or minority status.
There always is speculation that Members will retire after losing the majority, Cole said, noting that in 1996 — the cycle following the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress — Democratic retirements were not as widespread as some predicted. That year Democrats ended up defending 28 open seats while Republicans were defending 21.
Since that time, both parties have been successful in holding retirements to a minimum, averaging around 32 per cycle combined this decade.
“People forget why people came here in the first place. Most of the people here on both sides of the aisle really care about public policy and really do enjoy being Members of Congress and really know how special the privilege is so all those things work together,” Cole said.
Former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is expected to make his election plans known in the coming weeks, with his retirement viewed as a foregone conclusion at this point. Democrats are hopeful that they can contest his suburban Chicago GOP-leaning district.
Elsewhere, many eyes are on GOP Reps. Ralph Regula (Ohio), Bill Young (Fla.), Jo Ann Davis (Va.), John McHugh (N.Y.), Don Manzullo (Ill.) and Barbara Cubin (Wyo.) as potential retirees.
McHugh, who has not made his re-election decision, said being in the minority now was not part of calculating his future plans.
“I haven’t heard a big rush to the door and I don’t expect it,” he said.
Several Members with ethical woes also are on the retirement watch list, including GOP Reps. Rick Renzi (Ariz.), Jerry Lewis (Calif.), John Doolittle (Calif.) and Don Young (Alaska) — all of whom are under federal investigation.
Rep. Tom Davis (R) is all but certain to vacate his Northern Virginia seat if Sen. John Warner (R) announces he is not running for re-election, though retirements because of higher office ambitions look likely to be very minimal this cycle on both sides of the aisle.
Davis’ seat is ripe for a Democratic takeover if he vacates it. Democrats also would have instantly competitive races in the swing districts of Young, McHugh, Renzi and Regula.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (Va.) is running the incumbent retention program for the NRCC this cycle, and Cole said there is a joint leadership and NRCC staff effort to keep tabs on Members rumored to be considering retirement.
“It starts with a long list and some we can take off right away, others will tell you, ‘It’s a possibility, here’s my time frame.’ In this game, no surprises is what you want,” Cole said, noting that the circumstances are different for each Member so the pitch is usually different. “It’s really more nuanced than, ‘Everybody’s got to stay here,’” he said.
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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