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More GOP Moderates Looking for Exit

As Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) announced his retirement from the House on Monday, his candid acknowledgement that he is among a “dying breed” of GOP moderates in the chamber surely reverberated throughout the ranks of his party leaders and fellow centrists.

Ramstad, who also suggested that more vacancies are to come, is the third such middle-of-the-road Republican to announce plans to leave the House in 2008. Two of the three seats they leave behind are in jeopardy of being picked up by Democrats.

And Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.), another centrist, is expected to announce his retirement in the coming days amid questions of unethical conduct, putting yet another marginal Republican district in play.

Coupled with the loss of more than a half-dozen swing-seat Members in the 2006 elections, the retirements of several moderates so far this cycle could be the start of an alarming trend for the House GOP.

While some GOP moderate leaders argue they are more powerful now and have more incentive than ever before to stay put, still others acknowledge that as more and more of their centrist colleagues leave, it may become more difficult to stay.

Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), one of the most prominent moderates in the House, said the loss of colleagues and friends “gives everybody pause” when considering their own futures and “makes it that much more difficult in terms of convincing other moderates to stay.”

He also noted the obvious political impact that swing-seat departures have on his party’s efforts to regain the House majority.

“As you lose moderate Republicans, you also lose seats,” Castle said, noting the uphill battle the party faces in trying to win back seats in Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania that were lost in the previous cycle.

Castle said the current Republican leadership has been more supportive of moderates than previous leadership teams have and that, above all else, losing the personal friendships stings the most.

“It’s the loss of the people that really hurts,” he said.

Just last week, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) said he will not run for re-election unless GOP leaders support his bid to become the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

For Shays, and privately for some other moderates as well, being continually passed up for chairmanships while facing tough re-election battles every two years has worn their patience thin.

“I’m 61 years old. I’ve been in Congress 20 years. If I have to fight to become chairman of a committee, given the job I’ve done, I need to move on,” Shays told The Hartford Courant.

Shays, one of the House’s most outspoken centrists and a perennial target for defeat by Democrats, was one of the few Northeastern Republicans to survive re-election in 2006 and faces another difficult race next year if he runs.

Among the GOP moderates defeated in 2006 were Reps. Rob Simmons (Conn.), Nancy Johnson (Conn.), Charles Bass (N.H.), Jeb Bradley (N.H.) and Gil Gutknecht (Minn.). Rep. Joe Schwarz (Mich.) was defeated in a primary.

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