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What A Flurry Of Democratic Departures Means For The 2022 House Race

UPDATE (Dec. 16, 2021, 12:50 p.m.): Just a few hours after we published this article, Democratic Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California announced his retirement from the House.

With Lowenthal’s retirement, 20 House Democrats have now announced they will not seek reelection in 2022, compared with 11 Republicans. Although California has not completed its redistricting process, Lowenthal represents a heavily Democratic district around Long Beach, so unless he ended up facing another incumbent Democrat, he likely wouldn’t have had much trouble winning reelection. But with Republicans favored to take back the House next year, Lowenthal might have decided it wasn’t worth sticking around.


We can’t know for sure what the 2022 electoral environment will look like, but we do know that the president’s party usually struggles during midterm elections. In fact, history would suggest Republicans have a very good shot at taking back the House, considering Democrats hold only a 222-to-213 seat edge.1 Moreover, President Biden’s poor approval rating, public concern about COVID-19 and inflation plus the GOP’s strong performance in recent elections all augur well for Republicans.

Members of Congress know this, too. So it’s no wonder that of the 30 House members who’ve called it quits so far, 19 are Democrats while just 11 are Republicans, as the table below shows. Tellingly, too, many Democrats are abandoning competitive turf that will be difficult for their party to defend.

Democratic retirements outnumber GOP exits

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives retiring or seeking another office ahead of the 2022 election

District Representative Party Why they’re leaving Partisan lean
CA-37 Karen Bass D Mayoral run D+68.5
TX-30 Eddie Bernice Johnson D Retiring D+55.8
MD-04 Anthony Brown D Atty. Gen. run D+54.2
CA-14 Jackie Speier D Retiring D+53.8
NC-04 David Price D Retiring D+31.5
VT-AL Peter Welch D Senate run D+27.5
PA-18 Mike Doyle D Retiring D+26.0
FL-10 Val Demings D Senate run D+20.8
KY-03 John Yarmuth D Retiring D+19.9
NC-01 G.K. Butterfield D Retiring D+7.0
NY-03 Tom Suozzi D Governor run D+6.2
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
OR-04 Peter DeFazio D Retiring R+1.0
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
IL-16 Adam Kinzinger R Retiring R+19.8
GA-10 Jody Hice R Sec. 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
TX-01 Louie Gohmert R Atty. Gen. run R+50.3

As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Dec. 15, 2021.

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 based on the statewide popular vote in the last four state House elections.

Source: News Reports

Although redistricting complicates this analysis, the table above clearly shows Democrats are the ones mainly leaving behind swingy territory. Ten Democrats are abandoning seats that are less than 10 points more Democratic than the country as a whole, while only one Republican is exiting a seat that’s less than 10 points more Republican.2 Incumbents have less of an advantage than they once did, but this is still a negative development for Democrats hoping to limit their House losses to the low single-digits next November.

Concerns around redistricting are definitely part of the equation here, though. Perhaps most obviously, Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield announced his retirement in November not long after North Carolina’s legislature passed the state’s new congressional map, which shifted his seat from D+7 to D+1. In his retirement announcement, Butterfield, who is Black, criticized the new map as a partisan and racial gerrymander that weakens Black political power in his part of the state. North Carolina’s map faces lawsuits, so it’s possible it could be overturned by the state’s courts. 

But Butterfield isn’t alone in departing in the face of redistricting uncertainty. Retiring Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Ron Kind of Wisconsin each could have been forced to run in a less favorable seat, and they each chose to retire before seeing their states’ new maps. Meanwhile, other Democrats with potential redistricting difficulties are looking for promotions instead. 

Rep. Charlie Crist of Florida, for instance, is running for governor, an office he previously held. Crist has claimed redistricting didn’t factor into his decision, but it does look as if Republican line-drawers may make Crist’s R+1 seat somewhat redder in redistricting. Similarly, Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb faced the possibility that his underpopulated R+2 seat in western Pennsylvania might become more Republican if it has to take in nearby rural turf (the state’s divided government makes sussing out the future map difficult), so he is now mounting a Senate run instead. Meanwhile, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan knew there was a good chance his swingy eastern Ohio seat would be dismantled by GOP line-drawers in Columbus — which is what, in fact, happened — so from his vantage point, it was probably worth jumping into his state’s open-seat Senate race instead.

But even when redistricting benefited Democrats, that wasn’t always enough to keep some Democrats from leaving. For instance, Democratic mapmapkers in Illinois shifted Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos’s district from R+5 to D+4, but she still announced her retirement well before the map was finalized. And Democratic Rep. Filémon Vela of Texas retired before learning that his 34th District would become much bluer after Texas Republicans opted to draw many more Democrats into Vela’s territory — so much so that Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of the neighboring 15th District has opted to run in the 34th rather than defend his swingy seat.

For some members, the lure of higher office may have also trumped the prospect of defending a favorable seat, even when running for another post wouldn’t be easy. Republican-drawn draft maps in Florida suggest that Rep. Val Demings’s seat will remain solidly Democratic, yet she jumped into a tough Senate race against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio months ago. Additionally, New York Rep. Tom Suozzi is running for governor against Gov. Kathy Hochul, a fellow Democrat, despite state Democrats’s ability to draw favorable lines to protect the party’s House incumbents. And there are three other Democrats who fall into this category at this point: California Rep. Karen Bass, who is running for Los Angeles mayor; Maryland Rep. Anthony Brown, who is running for state attorney general; and Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, who is running for his state’s open Senate seat.

Tellingly, while 11 of the outgoing Democrats can be categorized as “pure retirements,” whereby they’re leaving with no future plans to seek public office, just four of the 11 Republicans fall into this category. This asymmetry isn’t surprising, though, as the president’s party tends to see a larger number of pure retirements in midterm cycles. The reality is that some Democrats anticipate losing the House majority and don’t want to stick around even if they have safe — or less difficult — seats to run in. 

Take Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, who announced his retirement earlier this month. DeFazio chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, but he stood to lose his gavel if the GOP won the House. It’s possible after almost 36 years in the House, DeFazio may have also felt it was simply time to move on, even though Oregon Democrats recently shored up his district on the state’s new congressional map. But a combination of age and the possibility of being in the minority probably influenced his choice, as may have been the case for veteran lawmakers like Reps. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, David Price of North Carolina and Jackie Speier of California, all of whom hold safe Democratic seats.

On the Republican side, however, more members are embracing ambitions to run for higher office than simply exiting stage right. Seven out of the 11 outgoing Republicans are seeking another post. Of those, four are running for Senate, each in open-seat races where winning the Republican primary might be enough to become a senator, especially in a GOP-leaning midterm environment. 

That’s definitely the case in Alabama for Rep. Mo Brooks and in Missouri for Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, thanks to the strong Republican tilt of their states. As for GOP Rep. Ted Budd of North Carolina, he faces a potentially challenging Senate primary against former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker, but he also has Trump’s endorsement and, while North Carolina is much more competitive than Alabama or Missouri, Budd could definitely win a midterm general election in what is still a GOP-leaning state.

As for the other three Republicans looking for a career change, they’re all mounting bids for a variety of different state-level offices. New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, for instance, is running an uphill campaign for governor in blue New York. This is a much more difficult path to hike than the other Republicans in this category, but Zeldin faced the possibility that Democrats in Albany might make his eastern Long Island seat much bluer. As for the last two Republicans in this category, they’re in safe seats but are seeking to take on embattled Republican incumbents in other offices. In Georgia, Trump-endorsed Rep. Jody Hice is running for secretary of state against incumbent Brad Raffensperger, who refused to aid Trump’s requests to subvert the election in Georgia last year. And in Texas, Rep. Louie Gohmert is seeking to become attorney general by defeating scandal-ridden GOP incumbent Ken Paxton.

Of the four House Republicans who do fall into the pure retirement category, their circumstances are pretty different from the Democrats in this category, in that they’re leaving due to scandal, party rules and the fallout from opposing Trump. New York Rep. Tom Reed was pondering a gubernatorial run, but announced his retirement following allegations of sexual misconduct, while Texas Rep. Kevin Brady decided to leave office as he can’t serve any more terms as the leading Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee due to the GOP’s internal rules regarding committee leadership. Meanwhile, Reps. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois faced a huge backlash from within the GOP for voting to impeach Trump and decided to retire instead.

It’s not going out on a limb to say that there’ll probably be a few more retirement announcements, too, in the coming weeks and months. As the table below shows, only one state — Texas — has moved beyond its candidate filing deadline. Moreover, 25 states still have yet to complete the redistricting process, which could influence incumbents’ choices about staying or leaving.

Most candidate filing deadlines are still months away

Each state’s redistricting status, candidate filing deadline and primary date

State Completed redistricting Candidate filing deadline Primary
Texas Dec. 13 March 1
Kentucky Jan. 7 May 17
Alabama Jan. 28 May 24
West Virginia Jan. 29 May 10
New Mexico Feb. 1 June 7
Ohio Feb. 2 May 3
Indiana Feb. 4 May 3
Nebraska* Feb. 15 May 10
Maryland Feb. 22 June 28
Arkansas March 1 May 24
Mississippi March 1 June 7
Oregon March 8 May 17
Pennsylvania March 8 May 17
Idaho March 11 May 17
North Carolina** TBD May 17
Georgia March 11 May 24
California* March 11 June 7
Montana March 14 June 7
Illinois March 14 June 28
Maine March 15 June 14
Colorado March 15 June 28
Utah March 17 June 28
Iowa March 18 June 7
Nevada March 18 June 14
South Dakota March 29 June 7
Missouri March 29 Aug. 2
South Carolina March 30 June 14
Virginia March 30 June 21
New Jersey April 4 June 7
Arizona April 4 Aug. 2
New York April 7 June 28
Tennessee April 7 Aug. 4
North Dakota April 11 June 14
Oklahoma April 15 June 28
Michigan April 19 Aug. 2
Massachusetts May 10 Sept. 20
Washington May 20 Aug. 2
Vermont May 26 Aug. 9
Wyoming May 27 Aug. 16
Minnesota May 31 Aug. 9
Kansas June 1 Aug. 2
Wisconsin June 1 Aug. 9
Alaska June 1 Aug. 16
Connecticut June 7 Aug. 9
Hawaii June 7 Aug. 13
New Hampshire June 10 Sept. 13
Florida June 17 Aug. 23
Rhode Island June 29 Sept. 13
Delaware July 12 Sept. 13
Louisiana† July 22 Nov. 8

As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Dec. 16, 2021.

*Nebraska’s candidate filing deadline is Feb. 15 for incumbents and March 1 for nonincumbents. In California, the March 11 deadline is extended to March 16 if no incumbent files in a race.

**The North Carolina Supreme Court stayed the candidate filing deadline of Dec. 17 and moved the state’s primary from March 8 to May 17 in response to lawsuits over the state’s new district lines. A new filing deadline has not been set.

†Louisiana’s elections have candidates from all parties run together on the November general election date. If no candidate wins an outright majority, a December runoff is held between the top-two vote-getters.

Source: Daily Kos Elections

Historically, a sizable number of retirements have happened within two to four months of a state’s candidate filing deadline, so we’re very likely to see more departure announcements this cycle. In other words, don’t be surprised if we get a handful of retirements early next year after members have had some downtime to ponder their political futures.

Footnotes

  1. The Democratic count includes one vacancy in a deep blue seat in Florida.

  2. 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.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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