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It Looks Like House Democrats Are Worried About The 2022 Midterms

The number of U.S. representatives not seeking reelection is now up to 19. Since our last update, GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez bowed out in the face of a Republican revolt in his district over his vote to impeach former President Donald Trump, and Democratic Rep. Karen Bass announced her intention to run for mayor of Los Angeles in 2022. And just on Tuesday, Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth announced he would retire from elected office as well.

House retirements are one metric we’re watching to give us a clue as to how the 2022 midterms will unfold, but on the surface at least, it doesn’t look like either party has an advantage in this regard: 10 Democrats are retiring compared with nine Republicans. However, when you dig into the specific reasons that are likely behind each retirement, it does look like Democrats are more worried than Republicans.

19 House members are leaving office so far

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives not running for reelection in 2022, as of Oct. 12, 2021

District Representative Party Why They’re Leaving Partisan Lean
CA-37 Karen Bass D L.A. mayor run D+68.5
FL-10 Val Demings D Senate run D+20.8
KY-03 John Yarmuth D Retiring D+19.9
TX-34 Filemon Vela D Retiring D+4.8
AZ-02 Ann Kirkpatrick D Retiring D+2.3
OH-13 Tim Ryan D Senate run D+0.3
FL-13 Charlie Crist D Governor run R+1.0
PA-17 Conor Lamb D Senate run R+2.3
IL-17 Cheri Bustos D Retiring R+4.7
WI-03 Ron Kind D Retiring R+8.7
NY-01 Lee Zeldin R Governor run R+9.6
NY-23 Tom Reed R Retiring R+15.2
OH-16 Anthony Gonzalez R Retiring R+19.2
GA-10 Jody Hice R Secretary of state run R+27.8
AL-05 Mo Brooks R Senate run R+32.4
NC-13 Ted Budd R Senate run R+38.2
MO-04 Vicky Hartzler R Senate run R+39.3
MO-07 Billy Long R Senate run R+47.7
TX-08 Kevin Brady R Retiring R+49.7

District numbers and partisan leans are for current districts, which are not necessarily the ones that will be in use during the 2022 midterms.

Partisan lean is the average margin difference between how a state or district votes and how the country votes overall. This version of partisan lean, meant to be used for congressional and gubernatorial elections, is calculated as 50 percent the state or district’s lean relative to the nation in the most recent presidential election, 25 percent its relative lean in the second-most-recent presidential election and 25 percent a custom state-legislative lean.

Sources: Daily Kos Elections, news reports

At this stage, six of the Republicans are leaving the House to run for another office. Of the other three, Gonzalez is probably leaving because he would have a hard time winning his Republican primary, Rep. Tom Reed appeared to retire in response to his sexual harassment scandal, and Rep. Kevin Brady said he is leaving partly because he is term-limited out of his position as top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. Arguably, Reed and Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is running for governor, also decided to retire given Democrats’ control of redistricting in their home state of New York (which means they could be running on bluer turf next year). But considering they also had other factors playing into their retirements, one can argue at this point that no Republicans are retiring primarily out of fear of losing their general election next year.

Retiring Democrats, however, appear to be more motivated by electoral concerns. Only five of the 10 retiring Democrats are running for another office, while four currently represent swing seats: Reps. Filemon Vela, Ann Kirkpatrick, Cheri Bustos and Ron Kind. And only Vela’s seat is likely to be made safely Democratic in redistricting, although he didn’t know that when he announced he was retiring. It’s reasonable, therefore, to theorize that fear of losing reelection was a key factor in their decisions to retire. 

The 10th retiring Democrat is Yarmuth, who currently represents a safely blue seat anchored by Louisville, Kentucky. But he may be retiring out of fear of losing reelection, too. That’s because Republicans, who control the redistricting process in Kentucky, could eliminate his seat by giving slices of his dark-blue 3rd District to neighboring red districts that can absorb more Democratic voters without becoming competitive — a gerrymandering technique known as “cracking.” 

Democrats or Republicans in Congress

related: Our Best Tool For Predicting Midterm Elections Doesn’t Show A Republican Wave Read more. »

Kentucky hasn’t begun the redistricting process yet (at least publicly), so we don’t yet know with certainty what its new map will look like. Yarmuth’s retirement, though, could suggest that he expected Republicans to force him out. But even if they hadn’t and the 3rd District remained intact, Yarmuth may have still retired for political reasons: He is currently chair of the House Budget Committee, but he stands to lose that considerable power if Republicans take back control of the House in 2022. His retirement may indicate that he’s not optimistic about Democrats’ chances next year. Political science research has found that politicians are more likely to retire when they see a bad political environment for their party on the horizon.

The good news for Democrats is that politicians make bad pundits: There has historically been a weak relationship between which party sees the most retirements and which party does poorly the subsequent election. But the bad news for Democrats is that, whatever the specific motivation of Yarmuth’s retirement, history is clearly on the side of Republicans having a strong performance in the 2022 midterms.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.