- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 23, 2017

House Republicans are seeing an early wave of retirements, including from some of the party’s longest-serving members and others who appear fed up with the partisanship on Capitol Hill, leaving strategists looking for signs of a coming electoral shift in next year’s elections.

Twenty-five Republican incumbents have announced they intend to retire, resign or run for another office. Three have either already left or plan to leave before their term is up, with 10 preparing to run for either a governor or Senate seat.

Although the numbers aren’t record-setting, the level of seniority on the way out is striking.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, a 25-year incumbent and current chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, a 30-year incumbent and past chairman of the Judiciary Committee and current chief of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, are leaving. So is Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who has served 15 years and is chairman of the Financial Services Committee.

Each of them is finishing a six-year tenure as chairman. Without anywhere else to rise, they are making way for new blood.

Rep. Charles W. Dent of Pennsylvania, a 13-year veteran, credited his retirement decision to the intense political climate.

Rep. David A. Trott, Michigan Republican, is leaving after just two terms.

He was traumatized by seeing House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, shot on the baseball field in June, said former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who served two terms as chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee in the past decade.

“You can’t put it to one thing,” Mr. Davis said.

He said there is also an element of political reality in some Republicans’ decisions.

“Some members maybe sense political trouble [and] want to go out on top,” he said. But he added that Republicans have done a good job retaining members, considering the turbulent political climate.

Strategists say it’s too soon to determine whether the midterm elections will bring a political wave or even if the retirement numbers will reach historic markers.

“We do have a little ways to go before we meet the historical averages, though, so there have not been a rash of these retirements. But some of them come in seats that may be very vulnerable without incumbents,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia.

Democrats say they don’t need any more evidence. They already sense a building political wave that they hope will sweep them into control of both the House and Senate, just as anti-presidential waves did for Republicans in 1994 and for Democrats in 2006.

Democrats say they intend to compete in more places, even in districts where President Trump did well last year.

“The DCCC has successfully built the largest battlefield in over a decade, with strong campaigns ready to win tough races across the map in 2018,” Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the Democratic National Campaign Committee, said in a Nov. 9 memo.

Democrats do have their own slate of retirements — including many lawmakers looking to run for higher office. And then there is Rep. Gene Green of Texas, first elected in 1992, who says he wants to spend more time with his family.

But the Republican retirements are more than twice the Democratic level.

One strategist attributed the rash of retirement announcements to early filing deadlines. In Texas, for example, the deadline to file as a candidate for office is Dec. 11. Four Texas congressman — Reps. Jeb Hensarling, Ted Poe, Lamar Smith and Sam Johnson — have said they plan to step down.

Republicans likely will hold those Texas districts, but Mr. Kondik pointed specifically to open seats in New Jersey, Florida and Washington state as places where Republicans may need to worry.

If Democrats gain in areas where Mr. Trump did well, Mr. Davis said, then Republicans will be in for trouble.

“Republicans are facing strong headwinds,” Mr. Davis said. “At least one thing Republicans have is they have a warning shot.”

Republicans say they aren’t concerned and point to previous Democratic promises of “wave” elections and campaign victories.

“This is another pipe dream from the same party that’s notorious for underperforming. We already have a host of quality Republican candidates declared in many of these seats, and we’re confident they’ll remain red,” said Jesse Hunt, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

• Sally Persons can be reached at spersons@washingtontimes.com.

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