Congressional retirements are an early indicator of the political environment, and for the second consecutive election, more Republicans than Democrats are heading for the exit.
Representative Paul Cook of California on Tuesday became the 17th House Republican to announce he would not run for his seat again next year. While it’s common for House members to use the chamber as a stepping stone to higher office, Cook is leaving to run for a local seat instead: His chief of staff told the Los Angeles Times Cook would declare his candidacy for the Board of Supervisors in San Bernardino County. He’d be the second Republican in the past few years to make a move to local politics. In 2016, Representative Candice Miller left her House seat and won election as the public-works commissioner in Macomb County, Michigan.
In all so far, 13 GOP House members and four senators are forgoing reelection next year without declaring their candidacy for another office, while just three Democrats in the House and one in the Senate are retiring outright. More than two dozen Republicans retired ahead of the 2018 midterms, foreshadowing the blue wave that swept in a Democratic majority.
The announcements may indicate that GOP members have little confidence that their party will regain power in the House anytime soon. It’s a familiar dynamic: In 2006, after Democrats won back the House majority for the first time in a dozen years, Republicans saw a high number of retirements in the following term. The departures helped Democrats pick up even more seats in the 2008 election.
In the Senate, Republicans are losing four veteran committee chairmen: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and Mike Enzi of Wyoming. While Alexander, Roberts, and Enzi represent solidly red states that will likely stay Republican in 2020, Isakson’s decision to resign at the end of 2019 for health reasons sets up a second Senate election in Georgia, where Senator David Perdue is already up for reelection next year. Democrat Stacey Abrams nearly won Georgia’s governorship in 2018, making the race for Isakson’s Senate seat potentially competitive next year—and one that could have big implications for control of the chamber.
In the House, the GOP departures point to a pair of ominous trends for the party: the loss of several members of its dwindling contingent of minority and women lawmakers, and an exodus from Texas (or what Democrats are already calling a “Texodus”).
The retirement of Representative Will Hurd of Texas stung—and surprised—Republicans the most. As the lone black Republican in the House, the former CIA officer who represents a swing district along the border was once seen as a rising star in the party at a time when it seemed Republicans would pursue bipartisan immigration legislation that could appeal to Latino voters. Yet Hurd decided to leave in the weeks after a series of racist tweets by the president appeared to crystallize a 2020 electoral strategy of mobilizing the GOP’s white base.
Republicans were also taken aback by the departures of Representatives Susan Brooks of Indiana and Martha Roby of Alabama—two of just 13 GOP women in the House. Brooks is serving as the party’s House-candidate-recruitment chief heading into 2020, making her decision to leave even more difficult to swallow. (The dozen retiring House Republicans do not include former Representative Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, who left Congress so early in his term—just two weeks after being sworn in—that a special election has already been held to replace him.)
Three of the five retiring Texans are getting out ahead of difficult reelection battles after narrowly winning in 2018. Their exits, along with former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke’s surprisingly strong Senate bid last year, are a reason Democrats are bullish on their chances of picking up even more House seats in Texas, flipping one of its two state legislative chambers, and possibly even turning it blue on the presidential level in 2020.
Senate Republicans Retiring Outright
Lamar Alexander, Tennessee
- 2016 presidential election: +26.15 Trump
- 2014 Senate election: +30.1 Alexander
One of the Senate’s few remaining bipartisan dealmakers, Alexander announced late in 2018 that he would retire after three terms. Over a 40-year career in politics, Alexander had previously served as governor of Tennessee and education secretary under President George H. W. Bush. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. In recent years, Alexander has earned a reputation for working with liberal Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington from his perch as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Tennessee is deeply Republican: Democrats fell well short in their bid to pick up retiring Republican Senator Bob Corker’s seat in 2018, making it difficult to see how they could create a competitive race in 2020.
Pat Roberts, Kansas
- 2016 presidential election: +20.5 Trump
- 2014 Senate election: +10.8 Roberts
Roberts’s retirement after four terms, which he announced in January, has set off a nervous recruitment season among Kansas Republicans after a moderate Democrat captured the governorship of the reliably red state last year. The Republican who lost that race, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is running for Roberts’s seat, prompting the GOP to cast around for a less radioactive candidate. The dream candidate for establishment Republicans is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the former Kansas congressman who hasn’t quite slammed the door, despite initially saying no to a run.
Johnny Isakson, Georgia
- 2016 presidential election: +5.1 Trump
- 2016 Senate election: +13.8 Isakson
Isakson announced in August that he would resign his seat at the end of 2019, citing various health challenges that include Parkinson’s disease. The 74-year-old chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee had been reelected to a third term in 2016. Republican Governor Brian Kemp will appoint his replacement, and there will be a special election in 2020 to fill the remaining two years of Isakson’s term. With Senator David Perdue already up for reelection, Democrats are expected to make a run for at least one of the two Senate races in Georgia, an emerging battleground they’re also eyeing in the presidential race.
Mike Enzi, Wyoming
- 2016 presidential election: +46.3 Trump
- 2014 Senate election: +54.7 Enzi
The fourth-term senator and chairman of the Budget Committee announced in May that he would not seek a fifth term. The big question in Wyoming is not whether Republicans will hold the seat, but whether Representative Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, will make a run for it. Cheney wouldn’t have the race to herself, as former Representative Cynthia Lummis has already jumped in.
Senate Democrats Retiring Outright
Tom Udall, New Mexico
- 2016 presidential election: +8.3 Clinton
- 2014 Senate election: +10.8 Udall
Udall’s decision to retire after just two terms, which he announced in March, was something of a surprise, and it will, at least for now, end a decades-long Udall political dynasty in the West. New Mexico has turned pretty solidly blue in the past decade, and Representative Ben Ray Luján, a member of the House Democratic leadership, is the favorite to win Udall’s seat heading into 2020.
House Republicans Retiring Outright
Will Hurd, Texas’s 23rd Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +3.4 Clinton
- 2018 House election: +0.5 Hurd
Hurd’s decision in August to forgo reelection was the retirement bombshell of the year (so far). A 43-year-old former CIA officer in just his third term, he was considered a rising star in the party and is the only black Republican currently serving in the House. The announcement shocked GOP operatives, who saw it as an ominous sign for the party’s direction under Donald Trump. Hurd was no shoo-in for reelection, however: He won his 2018 race by just 1,000 votes, and his exit makes the district along the Mexico border a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats.
James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin’s Fifth Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +20.1 Trump
- 2018 House election: +24 Sensenbrenner
First elected in 1978, Sensenbrenner is the second-longest-serving Republican in Congress. He served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was an original sponsor of the Patriot Act in 2001, and has played a prominent role debating legislation on immigration, criminal justice, and voting rights for years.
Susan Brooks, Indiana’s Fifth Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +11.8 Trump
- 2018 House election: +13.6 Brooks
Brooks similarly dealt the GOP an unexpected blow with her retirement announcement in June. The former federal prosecutor had only arrived in the House in 2013. Brooks also heads the National Republican Congressional Committee’s recruitment efforts—making her decision not to run a particularly awkward one for the party. And while the seat has been safely Republican for years, Democrats are eyeing the district in the hope that they can peel off affluent suburban voters turned off by Trump.
Martha Roby, Alabama’s Second Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +31.9 Trump
- 2018 House election: +23 Roby
Roby’s decision to leave Congress at the age of 43 deprives Republicans of another young female lawmaker who was on the rise. Roby was first elected in 2010, but struggled in the Trump era: She withdrew her endorsement of the then GOP nominee in October 2016 after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, but she came around once he became president, and sought—and received—his endorsement in her reelection bid in 2018.
Sean Duffy, Wisconsin’s Seventh Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +20.4 Trump
- 2018 House election: +21.6 Duffy
The onetime Real World star announced he would be resigning from Congress on September 23 after he and his wife learned that the baby girl they are expecting this fall would be born with a heart condition. Duffy was first elected to the House in 2010 and became a reliable Republican vote. Though his northwest-Wisconsin district backed Barack Obama in 2008, it swung heavily to Trump in 2016. Democrats, however, might have a shot in a special election for the remainder of Duffy’s term.
John Shimkus, Illinois’s 15th Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +46.2 Trump
- 2018 House election: +41.8
Shimkus is the longest-serving House Republican to announce his retirement this year so far. First elected in 1996, he had risen to a senior position on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Republicans should easily hold this deep-red Illinois seat.
Bill Flores, Texas’s 17th Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +17.5 Trump
- 2018 House election: +15.5 Flores
A former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Flores is leaving one term earlier than his self-imposed limit of six. He was first elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010, when he defeated a longtime Democratic incumbent by the largest margin of any GOP challenger in the nation.
Rob Woodall, Georgia’s Seventh Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +6.3 Trump
- 2018 House election: +0.2 Woodall
First elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010, Woodall won his 2018 race by just 433 votes and decided five terms in Congress were enough. He had chaired the conservative Republican Study Committee for a term and was a senior member of the House Budget Committee. After coming so close in 2018, Democrats are looking to snatch this suburban district northeast of Atlanta in 2020.
Paul Mitchell, Michigan’s 10th Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +32.2 Trump
- 2018 House election: +25.3 Mitchell
Mitchell is a classic example of a person who gets to Congress and quickly realizes it’s not for him. The Republican announced his retirement barely one quarter of the way through his second term, less than three years after he’d spent a chunk of his personal fortune to win his first election. Coincidentally, the last Republican to have such a short stint by his own choosing was also from Michigan: Representative Dave Trott, who left in 2017 after just two terms.
Pete Olson, Texas’s 22nd Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +7.9 Trump
- 2018 House election: +4.9 Olson
Olson is one of four Republicans in the Texas delegation to announce his retirement ahead of 2020, part of a wave the Democrats have labeled the “Texodus.” He was first elected in 2008 and survived his closest reelection fight in 2018. Like Hurd’s, his district is one the Democrats will hope to flip next year.
Kenny Marchant, Texas’s 24th Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +6.2 Trump
- 2018 House election: +3.1 Marchant
The Dallas-area Republican won his race in 2018 by just three points—a far closer margin than in any election in his previous seven terms. He announced in August that he would retire in 2020, creating yet another hotly contested open seat in Texas.
Mike Conaway, Texas’s 11th Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +58.7 Trump
- 2018 House election: +61.7 Conaway
Unlike the other Republican retirees in Texas, Conaway is not leaving Congress in advance of a difficult reelection bid; the eight-term former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee cruised to victory in 2018, but he has seen his power diminished by the GOP’s self-imposed term limits on committee chairmen and the loss of its majority. Conaway had briefly led the House Ethics Committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, but he had told folks back home that he would leave once he was no longer in a leadership position in Congress.
Rob Bishop, Utah’s First Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +27.3 Trump
- 2018 House election: +36.7 Bishop
Bishop has served in the House since 2003 and led the House Natural Resources Committee until Democrats took control of the chamber last year. Republicans should have little trouble retaining this safe seat, which Bishop won easily every two years.
House Democrats Retiring Outright
José Serrano, New York’s 15th Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +88.9 Clinton
- 2018 House election: +92 Serrano
For nearly 30 years, Serrano has represented a South Bronx district that, at various times, has held the distinction of being the poorest, the most Democratic, and the smallest geographically in the country. He is currently the longest-serving Hispanic member of Congress and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, but he announced his retirement due to the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Like many other New York City races, this one will be decided in the Democratic primary.
Dave Loebsack, Iowa’s Second Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +4.1 Trump
- 2018 House election: +12.2 Loebsack
Loebsack’s retirement after seven terms could give Republicans a decent shot at picking up this open seat in a district Trump carried in 2016. The longtime political-science professor won his 2018 race by 12 points; a Democrat looking to succeed him could find difficulty with Trump at the top of the ticket.
Susan Davis, California’s 53rd Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +34.9 Clinton
- 2018 House election: +38.2
Davis has represented a heavily Democratic district in San Diego since 2001. Though she didn’t quite achieve the seniority to become a committee chairwoman, she is a high-ranking member of the Education and Labor Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the Administration Committee.
House Republicans Running for Another Office in 2020
Bradley Byrne, Alabama’s First Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +29.4 Trump
- 2018 House election: +26.4 Byrne
Byrne plans to give up his House seat in the hope of moving up to the Senate: He’s running in the Republican primary to take on Democratic Senator Doug Jones in what is easily the GOP’s best pickup opportunity in the Senate. Byrne has competition, however, in Roy Moore, who narrowly lost the race in 2017 amid multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against young girls earlier in his life. And former Senator Jeff Sessions has not ruled out a bid for the seat he gave up to become Trump’s first attorney general.
Greg Gianforte, Montana’s at-Large District
- 2016 presidential election: +20.2
- 2018 House election: +4.7 Gianforte
Montana’s sole congressman is best known for assaulting a reporter on the eve of his victory in a House special election in 2017. Gianforte, a wealthy tech executive, won that race anyway, and a narrow election to a full term in 2018. But he’s running for governor in 2020, his second go at the office after losing to Democrat Steve Bullock in 2016. Regardless of how he does this time, his exit from Congress could make his House seat an easier hold for Republicans.
Roger Marshall, Kansas’s First Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +45 Trump
- 2018 House election: +36.2 Marshall
Marshall is running in a crowded primary for the seat that Senator Pat Roberts is vacating in retirement. The 59-year-old obstetrician is in just his second term in the House, beating conservative Representative Tim Huelskamp, a thorn in the side of party leadership, in a 2016 primary. The district, which covers more than half of Kansas, is the reddest in the state.
Paul Cook, California’s Eighth Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +15.1 Trump
- 2018 House election: +20 Cook
Cook, 76, is leaving the House after four terms and will try to serve closer to home: He plans to run for a seat on the Board of Supervisors in San Bernardino County. His Republican district stretches to the Nevada border and is one of the largest geographically in California.
House Democrats Running for Another Office in 2020
Ben Ray Luján, New Mexico’s Third Congressional District
- 2016 presidential election: +25.1 Clinton
- 2018 House election: +32.2 Luján
Luján is a top contender to take the retiring Udall’s Senate seat in New Mexico, 12 years after he took Udall’s House seat when the Democrat advanced across the Capitol. Though he now owns the title of assistant speaker in the Democratic leadership, Luján rose to stardom as the chairman of the party’s congressional arm in 2018, when Democrats picked up 40 seats and easily recaptured the House majority.
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