There are still 110 days until Christmas, but Republican Rep. Dave Reichert just gave Democrats an early gift. The seven-term congressman announced Wednesday he would not seek re-election, opening up his competitive 8th District seat in Washington and giving Democrats a prime takeover target.
Democrats have had their eye on the district, which includes suburban King and Pierce counties, east and south of Seattle, but Reichert hadn’t been particularly vulnerable since President George W. Bush left office. His profile as a former King County sheriff who captured a serial killer helped him carve out an image independent from an unpopular Congress.
The district’s population is significantly white (over 70 percent) according to census numbers, but tracks with national averages for the college-educated non-Hispanic white population, a demographic that could help Democrats in the general election.
It’s not a heavily Democratic district — Hillary Clinton carried it 48 percent to 45 percent in 2016, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections — but the political environment is unlikely to be neutral with an unpopular Republican president in the White House. Without knowing the party nominees, Democrats should start a 2018 open seat race with an initial advantage.
This is the second Republican retirement that has prompted a dramatic ratings shift. When GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement in May, we shifted the rating of the race in Florida’s 27th District from Solid Republican to Leans Democratic.
Retirements and open seats are a critical piece of the Democratic effort to regain the majority because it decreases the number of well-established incumbents the party needs to defeat to gain the 24 seats necessary to take back the House.
“[Recruitment] is very important, but I would tell you before recruitment, one of the things that’s missing for this year … we helped create — I’m doing this by memory — but 18 open seats,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel of the 2006 midterm elections in a podcast with David Axelrod last month, before Reichert’s announcement. Emanuel was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that cycle.
“Right now, there’s only one retirement on the Republican side. They need to be using this break right now to have to force retirements,” Emanuel suggested. “We picked up, I think — I’m doing this by memory — of the competitive ones, I think we went 9 for 10 in open seats. It was almost a third of the 30-seat win.”
Reichert is the sixth House Member, Democrat or Republican, to announce his exit from Congress without seeking another office. He likely won’t be the last. Since 1976, 22 Members, on average, have announced their retirement.