A trio of House Republican retirement announcements over the past 10 days have sparked a debate between the leaders of the two major parties over whether the GOP is losing momentum in its quest to score major gains at the ballot box this fall.
With the three latest lawmakers choosing not to seek reelection in November, Republicans will have to defend 18 open seats and Democrats 14. The raw numbers contradict the conventional wisdom that Democrats would head for the sidelines after GOP Sen. Scott Brown's special election victory Jan. 19 in Massachusetts.
GOP strategists are brushing aside the retirement gap, saying that many of their House members see an improving political environment and are jumping ship to run for statewide office, and that other retirements are occuring in mostly conservative terrain that will be easy to defend. Democrats counter that the GOP retirements are a sign that most rank-and-file Republicans do not believe they will recapture the majority anytime soon.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Tex.) said that "not all retirements are created equal," adding that Democratic retirements are coming in far less friendly territory for the majority. "The fact of the matter is Democrats in swing districts are retiring because they know what November has in store for them," Sessions said.
"The fact that you have 10 percent of House Republicans retiring suggests they don't believe their own hype about taking back the House," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "If that was a realistic prospect, people would be running for office, not from it."