House Retirement Watch: Henry Brown

Rep. Henry Brown (R-SC) announced today that he will not seek reelection in 2010, after serving five terms in the House. That puts Republican House retirements at 14 in 2010, while 10 Democrats will retire at the end of this Congress.

Brown is the second Republican to retire without seeking another office.

How does this affect the landscape of open House seats in 2010? Republicans will still have the advantage when it comes to picking up a few more of those open seats, but Chris Cillizza notes this morning that each party will have to defend three seats where its presidential candidate lost in 2008. Democrats will defend four seats where President Obama won with less than 60 percent of the vote, while Republicans will defend six where Sen. John McCain won with less than 60 percent.

After Rep. George Radanovich's (R-CA) retirement broke the recent string of widely reported and analyzed Democratic retirements from the House last week, Brown's decision could shift a bit of momentum, or at least further combat the narrative that moderate, vulnerable Dems don't want to run again in 2010--an impression that had developed recently with the retirements of Bart Gordon (D-TN), John Tanner (D-TN), and Dennis Moore (D-KS).

It's unclear, as of yet, what chance Democrats will have of taking over Brown's seat in 2010.

Though the district is typically conservative, Brown narrowly won reelection in 2008, besting Democratic challenger Linda Ketner 52 percent to 48 percent. But Ketner isn't running again in 2010, and both parties will start from scratch with first-time congressional candidates.

The Democrats' likely standard-bearer in the district, according to a South Carolina Democratic official, is Robert Burton, an Iraq war veteran and active-duty Air Force colonel who announced his candidacy in November.

Upon hearing of Brown's retirement, Burton immediately traveled to Washington, DC today to fundraise from any potential donors who might see opportunity in Brown's retirement.

Brown had already drawn challenges from four Republicans, according to the Palmetto Scoop, including businessman Carroll Campbell and Mt. Pleasant Town Councilman Mark Fava.

Democrats were probably helped last time by Obama's candidacy--or perhaps just by the sinking GOP. In the previous two elections, Brown had won with 60 percent of the vote in 2006 and a whopping 88 percent in 2004.

Obama overperformed slightly in 2008 compared to John Kerry and Al Gore. McCain won the district in 2008 56 percent to 42 percent; in 2000 and 2004, President Bush won it with 59 and 61 percent, respectively.

A question for many districts in 2010, including this one, will be whether such blue trends continue, how much Obama had to do with Democrats' gains in 2008, and how congressional candidates will fare without him on the ballot this time around.

UPDATE: Although Ketner wasn't previously running, Brown's announcement could change that. "This is unexpected.  It's an interesting development and I'll take the time to consider it," Ketner said via e-mail.