One of the indicators that political types watch closely prior to elections in which control of Congress may be at risk is the number of incumbents who decide to hang it up. Going into 2018, for example, 23 House Republicans (and four Senate Republicans) decided to retire, while ten more House Republicans ran for another office.
So given the strong historical likelihood that the party controlling the White House is going to lose House seats — which it can hardly afford with its current three-seat margin — it makes sense to pay attention to House retirements. So far, 13 House Democrats have announced they’re retiring ahead of the 2022 election, which isn’t exactly a tsunami. Two of them were especially painful, though, since Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Ron Kind of Wisconsin represented districts carried by Donald Trump. And two more retirements (Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona and Filemon Vela of Texas) opened up seats potentially vulnerable to a Republican takeover.
But now there’s a different kind of troubling sign as three very senior Democrats who really didn’t have to fear defeat have, in short order, announced retirements: John Yarmuth of Kentucky, chairman of the House Budget Committee; David Price of North Carolina, who chairs an Appropriations subcommittee; and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, a 14-term incumbent who chairs an Energy and Commerce subcommittee. The simplest way to interpret these decisions is that the members took a long look at a return to the minority and decided they would just as soon do something else.
There are other possible explanations: Yarmuth is reportedly interested in his son taking over his seat, and Price, who is 81, may be placed in a district with another Democratic incumbent. Doyle is a relatively young 68 and was probably going to be left alone by redistricters (in Pennsylvania, Democratic governor Tom Wolf can veto maps enacted by the Republican legislature, and the liberal-leaning state Supreme Court has been famously active in killing Republican gerrymanders on constitutional grounds).
But if other senior Democrats begin to emulate these self-defenestrations, it could be a clear sign of collective demoralization about the midterm outlook.
A harder thing to figure out is the robust number of House members from both parties who are running for other offices. No fewer than seven (four Republicans — two from Missouri alone — and three Democrats) are trying to join the upper chamber, alongside two (Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican Lee Zeldin) who are running for governor and two more who are contesting other offices (Democrat Karen Bass, who is running for mayor of Los Angeles, and Jody Hice of Georgia, who is Trump’s candidate for Georgia’s secretary of State).
One reason Democrats are significantly more optimistic about maintaining control of the Senate than of the House is that all five retirements in that chamber are among Republicans. Two GOP senators (Richard Burr of North Carolina and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania) voted to convict Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors in February after announcing their retirements. A third retiree, Richard Shelby of Alabama, is 87. Rob Portman of Ohio was widely thought to be disgruntled with the hyperpolarized nature of the Senate but probably wasn’t afraid of reelection; neither was Roy Blunt of Missouri. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin likely will face a tough race if he runs again.
But any senators despairing of being in the majority would probably wait a bit before reaching any conclusions. The situation for House Democrats is more clearly problematic, with possible losses from both reapportionment and redistricting compounding the historical pattern. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a few more senior House Democratic retirements over the holidays, when the comforts of being at home, free from the demands of angry and needy constituents, are more evident.