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Have House GOP Retirement Woes Run Their Course?

Republican incumbents saw the writing on the wall last cycle, and many of them preferred to call it quits rather than struggle to hold their seats, knowing that the party would remain in the minority, which, in the House, often means irrelevancy.

The retirements added to the sense of gloom and doom on the Republican side, which, in turn, encouraged others to retire. The large number of GOP open seats then gave Democrats plenty of good opportunities for takeovers, and take over they did.

Indeed, Democratic insiders aren’t shy in acknowledging that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had a “retirement strategy” last cycle, and one that the party is certain to follow again this cycle.

The strategy was and remains simple: Target Republican incumbents whom the DCCC wants to retire and “encourage” them to retire. That means firing a shot across the bow. We try to tell them, “If you run again, it’s going to be a tough race,” is the way one Democratic operative put it.

Democrats argue that at least two veteran GOP Congressmen who called it quits last time, Reps. Jim Saxton (N.J.) and Ralph Regula (Ohio), got the message.

This cycle, Democratic operatives are hoping that the same tactics will work on Republican veterans such as Reps. Mike Castle (Del.), 69, Bill Young (Fla.), 78, Henry Brown (S.C.), 73, Don Manzullo (Ill.), 65, and Roscoe Bartlett (Md.), 82.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Democrats have talked about Castle and Young retiring, and since Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried Bartlett’s district by 18 points, a Democrat wouldn’t be likely to win the seat even if it becomes open.

So far, only one young House Republican has announced that he is giving up his seat to seek other office, 34-year-old Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.). But a number of Republicans in their 40s and 50s, who might have stayed in the House if the GOP were still in control — including Reps. Gresham Barrett (S.C.), 48, Zach Wamp (Tenn.), 51, Jim Gerlach (Pa.), 54, and Pete Hoekstra (Mich.), 55 — have either announced for statewide office or opened an exploratory committee.

Democratic insiders insist that Putnam’s district, which went very narrowly for McCain in the presidential contest, could be in play.

“The district has better Democratic performance than people assume. The right candidate could make the race very competitive,” one Democratic strategist argued.

Democratic strategists will be eyeing a handful of other GOP Members to see whether their seats will open up. The list includes Reps. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Judy Biggert (Ill.), Dave Reichert (Wash.), John Shadegg (Ariz.) and Elton Gallegly (Calif.).

“Democrats have been very clear about their intentions to try to force incumbent Republicans into retirement. In some cases they have been successful, but now we are looking to replicate that success,” one Republican operative told me recently.

Three Democrats have already taken steps to run for higher office — Reps. Paul Hodes (N.H.), Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii) and Tim Ryan (Ohio) — and others are mentioned as possibly interested.

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