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Mapmaking Stalls Retirement Plans

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo

“I wasn’t going to do anything until the court made its ruling on the interim map,” Gonzalez said in a phone interview. “Working real hard to maintain the 20th district wasn’t about Charlie Gonzalez, it was about the voters in the 20th district.”

At least two other Democrats made the same call to vacate Congress after this cycle, leaving their competitive districts wide open following their state’s redraw.

As dean of Illinois’ Congressional delegation, Rep. Jerry Costello (D) played a leading role in crafting his state’s new, aggressive House map. But five months after Illinois Democrats released it, Costello announced that he’s not seeking another term.

Costello leaves behind a competitive district, as well as a potential problem for House Democrats. National Democrats are still looking for a candidate to run in Costello’s stead against Jason Plummer, the GOP’s nominee for lieutenant governor last year, in that southwestern Illinois district.

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) pulled a similar stunt earlier this year. He lobbied state lawmakers to move his district into a new media market in the state’s northwestern corner as part of his groundwork for a potential gubernatorial bid. His district became more competitive in the process, putting Democrats in a pickle when Ross announced his retirement in July.

There’s no question that Democrats would have an easier time holding these districts — especially the competitive seats held by Costello and Ross — if they knew earlier this year that these Members were stepping down.

“The thing about retirements is you always have to expect the unexpected,” one senior Democratic aide said. “Because for all the planning that you do, there’s always going to be something you didn’t plan for.”

That’s why party officials are planning for a deluge of retirement announcements in the coming weeks. Traditionally, many Members announce their retirement after they’ve spent time with their families over the Thanksgiving recess and before the December holidays.

What’s more, finished maps in most states will force many Members to make decisions about their political futures.

The new Missouri map forces Rep. Russ Carnahan (D) to run either in a new, Republican-leaning district or on his own turf against Rep. William Lacy Clay (D) in a predominantly black district. Carnahan, 53, has not yet declared his plans, but he’s young enough to retire this cycle, save his campaign cash and run again when another seat opens.

Several North Carolina Democrats top the retirement watch list after a GOP-led redraw moved them into Republican districts or set them up to face each other in primaries. For that reason, Democrats are watching Reps. Heath Shuler, Larry Kissell and Mike McIntyre.

But two Tar Heel Republicans with lackluster fundraising could also be eyeing the exit — Reps. Howard Coble and Walter Jones Jr.

Republicans might also see more retirements in California after an independent redistricting commission overhauled the Congressional map. Reps. Jerry Lewis, David Dreier and Elton Gallegly top that list.

In Maryland, 85-year-old Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R) could retire instead of seeking re-election in a redrawn, heavily Democratic district. The GOP would rather give up the seat than try to fight for Bartlett in a hopeless effort.

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