The House was only on its fifth day of winter recess when the retirement announcements began.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf, a 17-term Virginia Republican, announced Tuesday he would not seek re-election. Eighty-four minutes later, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, shocked Capitol Hill by declaring his retirement. Near the end of the business day, Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, capped off the trio with his departure announcement.
This is just the beginning. Nine House members have announced retirements for reasons other than seeking higher office, according to Roll Call’s Casualty List. An average of 23 House members retired in each of the past three cycles, and many of them announced their departures around the holiday season.
The aftermath will reshape the landscape of the 2014 cycle. For example, Matheson’s departure virtually hands his seat to the GOP, while Latham’s exit puts his seat in play again for Democrats.
“Both sides are watching their guys and I’m sure both the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] and [National Republican Congressional Committee] are talking with some of their members that have been considering,” said Guy Harrison, a former NRCC executive director. “After a long year, members go home and come back thinking in a different way about what they want to do with their lives.”
There are often clues as to which members are eyeing the exits. Without an incentive to bring in big bucks for re-election, they often report low fundraising numbers. Health problems or personal changes prompt some members to reconsider the long weekends and flights to Capitol Hill. And the comforts of home and family can strike a contrast to the brutal political environment in Congress.
These clues, plus interviews with dozens of congressional operatives from both parties, yielded the following names of members who — despite their public denials — might call it quits in 2014. They are divided into four categories:
Representatives With Health Issues
In June, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy revealed she has lung cancer. But even before then, sources were talking about the New York Democrat leaving Congress.
A McCarthy source noted that the 69-year-old often graces House retirement watch lists. For now, the source said, McCarthy has finished her treatment and looks forward to her doctor approving her return to Congress. The Empire State’s filing deadline is in April.
At 35, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., is one of the youngest members in her caucus. The GOP rising star has more than a half-million in her campaign war chest and has already filed to run.
But in private conversations, Capitol Hill sources on both sides caution that she may not return because of a family situation. She prematurely gave birth in July to a daughter, Abigail Rose, who faces ongoing health complications. Herrera Beutler and her husband brought the baby home last week in what sources close to her say is a promising sign for the baby’s health.
Recently, the Clark County Columbian newspaper reported that Herrera Beutler “plans to run for re-election.” Her spokesman reiterated her intent to run in a Dec. 13 email to CQ Roll Call. The Washington state filing deadline is in May.
The Old Guard
They are the members who have seen it all, and after serving through several presidential administrations, they’re ready to leave. Competitive races often follow when these longtime members are off the ballot.
It’s the reason Democrats often talk up 75-year-old Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., as one of the old guard who could be on the way out this cycle. A couple of local Republican officials have announced campaigns for McKeon’s seat contingent on his departure, which he must decide on by the state’s March filing deadline.
Similarly, Republicans often suggest 69-year-old Rep. Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., as a future retiree, eyeing his competitive district. But top House Democrats are raising funds for Peterson ahead of Minnesota’s June filing deadline.
Every cycle, Republicans mention Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., as a potential retiree. But New York Democratic sources say the 84-year-old’s health is better than it has been in years and do not anticipate a retirement.
“They’ll have to carry me out,” Slaughter told The Buffalo News in January.
Slaughter represents a generation of Democrats that spent 12 years in the minority after the 1994 Republican revolution.
Many of her old guard colleagues look at the gerrymandered House map and fear Democrats won’t be able to take control until after the next redistricting in 2022.
To be sure, age does not serve as a retirement indicator for every member. Most operatives interviewed for this story assume 83-year-old Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y. and 90-year-old Rep. Ralph M. Hall, R-Texas, will not leave Congress of their own will.
In an email to supporters this week, Rangel suggested that he could consider retirement. Soon after, the New York Daily News reported that he plans to announce his re-election campaign Thursday.
The Tired Young Bucks
Democrats hope Reps. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., and Jon Runyan, R-N.J., have started a trend. They are leaving Congress after just two terms, frustrated with their Capitol Hill experiences.
Griffin, 45, and Runyan, 40, won in the 2010 GOP wave. Open-seat races in their districts give Democrats more pickup opportunities in 2014.
But so far, it’s unclear — and unpredictable — if any more tired young bucks are ready to leave so soon.
House operatives are closely monitoring California for retirements this cycle and beyond.
The Golden State used to be notorious for its incumbent retention, thanks to gerrymandering. But a new redistricting system and “top two” primary setup mean hardly anyone is safe.
Take, for example, Rep. Michael M. Honda, who faces a stiff challenge from another Democrat. With a top team and massive war chest, attorney Ro Khanna is every incumbent’s nightmare, and he’ll likely battle Honda through Election Day 2014.
Similarly, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif,, cruised to re-election for decades with more than 60 percent of the vote — until last year. The 74-year-old faced the biggest House self-funder of the cycle, independent Bill Bloomfield.
Waxman survived last cycle, but Honda’s fate for 2014 is unclear. If he goes down, other incumbents will have to look at his predicament and wonder whether they will be next. If so, will going through with a campaign like that be worth it?
Emily Cahn and Shira T. Center contributed to this report.