Another retirement spells even more trouble for House Democrats

On Monday, New York Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi announced he plans to leave his 3rd District seat behind to run for governor in 2022.

Asked about whether control of his seat — or the House more generally — mattered much in his decision, Suozzi said it “wasn’t a big factor.”
Which is all well and good for him! But Democratic strategists — from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on down — don’t have the luxury and Suozzi’s retirement is simply the latest in a series of body blows for the party’s majority chances in recent weeks.
    Suozzi is the 18th Democrat in the House planning to retire or run for higher office in 2022. By contrast, Republicans have only 11 members retiring. For context, at this point in the 2020 election cycle, only eight Democrats had called it quits as compared to 20 Republicans.
      The more you dig into the numbers, the worse they look for Democrats.

        Of the 18 Democratic open seats, fully one third are in districts where former President Donald Trump won or lost narrowly (5 points or less) in the 2020 election. And, that total doesn’t even include seats like Suozzi’s — where President Joe Biden won by 11 points in 2020 but where Hillary Clinton prevailed by only 6 points four years earlier.
        Even in a neutral national environment, those seats would be very hard for Democrats to hold. In an environment like this one — the first midterm of a presidency with Biden’s approval numbers stuck in the low 40s — not only are seats that Trump carried in danger but also seats like Suozzi’s could be too. (Suozzi was on a February list of 47 Democrats that Republicans planned to make serious runs at next year.)
          Remember that Biden carried Virginia by 10 points in 2020 while Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin won the state by 2 points earlier this month. Meaning that the electorate was roughly 12 points more Republican in Virginia in 2021 than it was in 2020. If that sort of trend holds, there are a whole lot of Democratic seats — including Suozzi’s that could well be in danger.
          (Worth noting: Democrats control the redistricting process in New York. And the line-drawers had designs on pinching Republicans — most notably in Lee Zeldin’s 1st District and Andrew Garbarino’s 2nd — on Long Island. An open seat in Suozzi’s 3rd District could well complicate that plan.)
          What’s equally troubling for Pelosi and her colleagues is that the rate of retirements within their ranks has increased significantly in recent weeks.
          In the last 13 days, five House Democrats have said they will retire or run for higher office next year. It began on November 16 with California’s Jackie Speier retiring, followed two days later by North Carolina’s G.K. Butterfield and then two days after that by Texas’ Eddie Bernice Johnson. Two days after that Vermont Rep. Peter Welch said he was running for the state’s open Senate seat. And then, on Monday, came the Suozzi decision.
          It’s important to not lump all of these retirements into one blob — as most of these members have extenuating circumstances influencing their decision. Welch, for example, has had his eye on Sen. Pat Leahy’s Senate seat for years and was always going to run when it came open. Butterfield found himself — thanks to Republican redistricters in the state — in a very tough district. Bernice Johnson, at 85, had been rumored as a potential retirement for the last several election cycles.
          So there’s no one reason why all of these Democrats are suddenly retiring. But, you can be absolutely sure that the sum total of their retirements has an impact on their colleagues — and how they think about their own futures. Already two committee chairs (Bernice Johnson and Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth) have made clear their plans to retire. That doesn’t usually happen if there is a belief within the caucus that they will continue to hold the majority.
          Even Suozzi’s decision suggests a desire to get off the ship before it sinks. He is getting into a very crowded Democratic primary that already includes two titans: Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Attorney General Letitia James. That Suozzi sees that race as a better option for him than staying in the House is telling — and worrisome for Democrats desperately trying to keep their majority come next November.
            The problem for Democrats is all of this feeds on itself in a negative cycle. Members retire because they think the political landscape looks bleak, which makes the political landscape bleak(er), which leads more members to retire, which makes the political environment — well, you get it.
            Suozzi’s retirement — in and of itself — isn’t the problem. But it’s a symptom of Democrats’ broader issues heading into next year.

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