So the Republicans will need to pad their target list with seats held by longer-serving Democrats. And the Republicans takeover chances improve when a veteran Member voluntarily decides that its time to go.
The NRCC has been ratcheting up attacks on Democratic incumbents whom they see as potential retirees, and the decision by 13-term incumbent Gordon to step aside may be seen by Republicans as a sign that their strategy is bearing fruit. Democrats employed the same strategy in the last two election cycles, attacking senior Republicans in swing districts in the hopes of chasing them into retirement. The strategy worked in a few places.
As chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, Gordon is the highest-ranking among the quartet of recent Democratic retirees. The list also includes six-term Rep. Dennis Moore of Kansas, chairman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations; 11-termer Tanner, chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security; and six-term incumbent Baird, chairman of the Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.
These departures raise uncomfortable questions for Democratic leaders about why Members who endured years in the minority are checking out not long after obtaining their committee or subcommittee gavels.
But the more immediate problem for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is that these retirements all create open-seat headaches. The two Tennessee seats are located in conservative-leaning districts that favored Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president last year while electing Democrats to the House. Gordons 6th district gave McCain a whopping 62 percent of its votes, while Tanners nearby 8th gave McCain 56 percent.
Obama narrowly carried Moores home base in Kansas 3rd district with 51 percent, and won Bairds base in Washingtons 3rd with 53 percent. But Kansas 3rd district has an overall Republican lean, Washingtons 3rd is a swing district, and the NRCC has placed both high on its target list. Democrats appear to have solid candidates in the Baird and Tanner districts but have yet to recruit anyone into the Kansas race.
In addition to Spratt and Skelton, other Democratic incumbents in competitive districts who will now be closely watched for retirement jitters include Reps. Marion Berry and Vic Snyder of Arkansas, Rep. Baron Hill of Indiana, and Rep. Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania. Berry, Snyder, Skelton, Hill and Spratt all represent McCain-Democratic districts. Kanjorskis district is more strongly Democratic, but he faces a probable rematch with a Republican candidate whom he held off by just 3 points in 2008.
Democrats have an additional worry in Hawaiis 1st district, where Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) is resigning soon to run for governor. Although the district is reliably Democratic, all of the candidates in the special election to replace him will appear on one ballot, meaning the leading Republican candidate, Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou, could sneak in if top-tier Democrats split the Democratic vote.
It is premature, though, for Republicans to count on a wave of Democratic retirements. In the 2008 election cycle, just 11 of the 32 House Members who did not seek re-election made their announcements after Dec. 10, 2007.
Gordons retirement made him the 21st House Member not seeking re-election, including 17 who are running for other offices. That is identical to the number of departures announced by the same point in the 2007-08 cycle.