House retirements creating pickup opportunities for Democrats and Republicans

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Two senior House lawmakers — one Democrat and one Republican — announced they won’t seek re-election next year, opening up opportunities for both parties to win those seats and signaling that the 2014 elections could be more competitive than analysts had predicted.

GOPRep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia will end a career on Capitol Hill that has stretched for more than three decades in the ever-changing Northern Virginia region, and Rep. Jim Matheson, the Utah congressional delegation’s lone Democrat, will step down after seven terms.

Mr. Wolf said in a statement that he plans to focus future work on human rights and religious freedom both at home and abroad, as well as “matters of the culture and the American family.”

Mr. Matheson, a member of the ever-dwindling Blue Dog Coalition of moderate Democrats in the House, said in a statement posted on his Facebook page that while it’s been a privilege to serve, his time in Congress “should not be the sum total of my service” and that while his time in the House would soon end, “my duty to our state and our country will undoubtedly continue.”

The announcements open up opportunities for both parties. Mr. Wolf’s seat has changed over the years as the region has grown, moving further north and west. He won re-election last year with 58 percent of the vote, though Virginia’s political trends suggest that the seat could be competitive next year.

“Sabato’s Crystal Ball,” a political newsletter run by the University of Virginia professor Larry J. Sabato, moved VA-10 from “Likely Republican” to “toss-up” after Mr. Wolf’s Tuesday announcement, and UT-4 from “Leans Democratic” to “Likely Republican” after Mr. Matheson’s announcement.

“Looking ahead to 2014, Virginia Republicans’ track record of nominating the most extreme candidate means they won’t find a centrist to fill Frank Wolf’s shoes in this toss-up district, but they will choose a candidate who will look at lot like the radicals in this Republican Congress,” said Kelly Ward, the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

But Republicans felt bullish about their prospects out west, citing Obamacare as a major factor.

“This is a warning signal to Democrats coast to coast,” said Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon Republican and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). “Not only will this announcement allow Republicans to focus our energy and resources on defeating other vulnerable Democrats, but it also proves that Obamacare has become a total nightmare for any Democrat running in 2014.”

Mia Love, a rising star in the Republican Party who narrowly lost to Mr. Matheson in 2012, had already announced her intention to run again next year. Ms. Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, would be the first black female Republican in the House of Representatives if she wins.

In Virginia, Fairfax County Supervisor John W. Foust of Dranesville recently announced his intention to run against Mr. Wolf, becoming by far the biggest Democratic name to jump into the race.

Del. Barbara Comstock, Fairfax Republican, used to work for Mr. Wolf on Capitol Hill and has been frequently mentioned as a potential successor.

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