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Democrats Fear Retirement Snowball Effect

Political professionals in both parties identify a number of House Democrats as possible retirees, including Reps. Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Rick Boucher (Va.), Lincoln Davis (Tenn.), Bob Etheridge (N.C.), Paul Kanjorski (Pa.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Ike Skelton (Mo.) and John Spratt (S.C.). All sit in districts that would be difficult for Democrats to defend if they become vacant — and if they run again, some of the incumbents may have to sweat re-election for the first time in a long time.

Republican operatives are fully aware that these senior Democrats aren’t happy about having tough re-election fights and are trying to shove a few toward the door.

The National Republican Congressional Committee on Monday began airing a withering attack ad against Spratt, calling the Budget chairman “the architect of the most fiscally irresponsible budget in history.”

But spokesmen for Spratt, as well as Boswell, Davis, Etheridge and Skelton, said Monday that their bosses are still committed to running for re-election. Mark Brownell, chief of staff to Peterson, said the Agriculture chairman traditionally does not formally announce his plans until February or March of an election year but is planning to run again.

Spokesmen for Boucher and Kanjorski would not provide definitive answers about the Members’ plans by press time.

Former Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), who spent the 2004 and 2006 cycles as chairman of the NRCC, said that even if the Democrats luck out and keep retirements to a minimum, sometimes a bad political environment is just too difficult to overcome.

“The reality is, the NRCC under my chairmanship in ’06 had a record amount of money, and we couldn’t take care of all the problems we had,” he said.

But many Democratic strategists say their superior fundraising — as well as having Obama in the White House — could help mitigate the effects of a difficult cycle.

Berry told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Monday that Obama recently waved off the suggestion that Democrats could be in for a repeat of their disastrous performance in the 1994 midterms.

The lawmaker also gave voice to the party’s jitters when he told the paper that at the outset of the health care reform debate, “I just began to have flashbacks to 1993 and ’94” and said the results in the Bay State last week “certainly bring back memories.”

For some moderates, the White House is hurting more than it is helping.

“There are a lot of Members who are very fed up with trying to fight the administration and trying to get things on the right course,” Cardoza said in an interview. “They needed to show the American people they were focused on the economy and building confidence in getting that right. That confidence has been shaken. We need to show competence in managing the government. That’s what the American people want.”

Frustration that the party is adrift after a year of passing complex and expensive legislation boiled over at a Thursday morning meeting of House Democrats, sources present said. Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), who lost to state Attorney General Martha Coakley in the special Senate primary, said her defeat owed in part to voter anger at a health care bill they viewed as too complicated.

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