- The Washington Times
Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A slew of Republican House retirements in recent weeks has left the GOP wondering whether it will be able to defend open seats in swing districts — and Democrats saying President Trump has poisoned the upcoming election for vulnerable Republicans.

Rep. David A. Trott of Michigan announced Monday that he will not seek re-election next year, becoming the third Republican incumbent to retire from a competitive district in the past two weeks.


Days earlier, Rep. David G. Reichert of Washington and Rep. Charles W. Dent of Pennsylvania announced their retirements — with Mr. Dent’s declaration making waves because the seven-term congressman was one of the chamber’s leading moderates.

“This was not an easy decision, but after careful consideration, I have decided that the best course for me is to spend more time with my family and return to the private sector,” Mr. Trott said in a statement explaining his decision.

But Democrats said the retirements are a sign of deep divisions within the GOP, as Republicans fear running for re-election on the record they’ve managed to amass so far under Mr. Trump.

“The fact that Charlie Dent feels he can no longer serve is an indication of the polarization and extremism in Congress right now. We will field a strong candidate who will be highly competitive in PA-15 — a candidate who will stand up for Pennsylvanians,” Marcel L. Groen, chairman of the Pennsylvania Democrats, said.

Mr. Dent alluded to those kinds of concerns in his retirement announcement, complaining of “ideological rigidity” in Washington that he said led to “dysfunction, disorder and chaos.”

The recent retirements follow other announcements by a series of senior Republicans, including Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. of Tennessee and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who were first elected in the 1980s, and Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas, who began serving in 1991.

Republicans said there wasn’t any broader message to read into the retirements.

“The current number of retirements is nowhere near even the historical average, and we’re confident these seats will remain in the Republican column,” said Jesse Hunt, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, adding that the party is already seeing “high-quality candidates” expressing an interest in running for many of the seats.

Experts also said the retirements are normal.

“By the numbers we’re still below the historical average, so until we get close to exceeding that number, it’s tough to draw a grander conclusion. At an individual level, I think these retirements are based on a number of factors. I think it’s rare a member retires because of one thing,” Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections, said.

The president’s party normally loses some seats in the midterms after an election year, but with Mr. Trump’s approval rating consistently at historic lows, and Republicans struggling to pass some sort of major legislation, some are speculating Republicans may lose more seats than normal.

The retirements could put the GOP in a deeper hole.

Cook Political Report switched Mr. Trott and Mr. Reichert’s races from “leans Republican” to tossups, and Mr. Dent’s from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican.”

Ms. Ros-Lehtinen’s seat in Florida is ranked as “leans Democrat” now that she is out of the running.

In May the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put out a watch list of Republicans who may retire, including Mr. Dent and Mr. Reichert. The DCCC put the blame for these retirements at House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s feet.

“In just a few short months, he has put already vulnerable House Republicans at further risk of losing their seats and damaged the entire Republican brand ahead of the 2018 midterms,” Tyler Law, DCCC national press secretary, said in a statement referring to Mr. Ryan.

Mr. Gonzales said those retiring may also have the shooting in June of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise on their minds. Mr. Scalise was gravely wounded by a left-wing zealot who targeted Republicans practicing baseball at a field in Alexandria, Virginia.

“I think it could be. I think it’s a natural thing to think about,” he said.

None of the GOP retirees have cited Mr. Scalise, but Rep. Ed Perlmutter, Colorado Democrat, did.

In June he said he was dropping out of the governor’s race and stepping down from his congressional seat because of the shooting. Late last month he decided he’ll run for re-election after all.

 


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