Word tonight that Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) has decided to retire took everyone from colleagues in Congress to the White House by surprise. Baird is the tenth Democrat to throw in the towel -- so far, not an unusually large number, but the type of number that, if it becomes a much larger number, turns into a trend that could spell disastrous consequences for the party's majority in the House. Two others Democrats have announced their retirements in as many weeks. Are Democrats bleeding? Too early to tell. Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report estimates that six of the open seats are competitive. Baird's certainly is -- the district has a blue tint to it, but it went for George W. Bush in 2004 and 2000. By the way: 12 Republicans are retiring; Democrats are going to play for three of those seats.
Why did Baird retire? A cautious, careful-thinking clinical psychologist by trade, he's never liked partisan politics -- he was mocked for refusing to hold town halls over the summer because he didn't want them to turn into circuses. He voted against the House version of health care reform.
Speaking of psychology, it almost doesn't matter whether the Democratic retirement rate appears normal (although most state filing deadlines are way off). It matters how the political class perceives the collection of decisions. The media will certainly try to find a pattern, and the more they talk about the pattern, the more the political ionosphere charges to the benefit of Republicans.
Who's next? Republicans are salivating at the prospect that Rep. Collin Peterson, a Blue Dog from Minnesota, won't rule out not running.