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RealClearPolitics HorseRaceBlog

By Jay Cost

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Expect More Retirements

There seems to be a constant stream of Republican House member retirements in the last few weeks. We can probably expect news like this to continue for a while.

Back in August, I argued that this is due to the "peril of the minority." Almost all Republican members of Congress are used to being in the majority. They are now in the minority, which is a much less pleasurable position. Fewer staffers, smaller offices, diminished power to set the agenda, and so on. The incentives for members to remain in Congress have decreased. If the GOP had a reasonable expectation of recapturing the majority next year - they would probably be able to retain some of the members who are retiring. However, at this point nobody seems to have that expectation.

Meanwhile, the prospective costs to remain in Congress seems to be increasing. Namely, President Bush's continued low job approval number means that the political climate favors the Democrats. Republican members of Congress can therefore expect a greater chance of a tough race next year - and, accordingly, they can expect a greater chance of a loss, which is the one thing that all members most fear.

What happens when costs go up and benefits go down? People start selling! And so, a good number of GOP retirements were to be expected this cycle. The question for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is whether it can keep retirements to a minimum. Another pressing question for the NRCC is whether it can persuade members from marginal districts who can win if they don't retire to stay on board. It's one thing for Rick Renzi or Jerry Weller to retire. Both of them have problems that make them liabilities next cycle. The big task for the committee is whether it can keep members who can win if they stay on board, but whose departure means the seat becomes more competitive. So far, they have lost a few such members. How many more will they lose? That is the big question.

-Jay Cost