House GOP Retirements Keep Piling Up

The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 3

This week:

  • House retirements pile up for Republicans
  • Arpaio gets in; Cramer, Mandel drop out of Senate races
  • Get used to saying it: “Senator Romney”

House retirements: It’s usually a lot easier to win an open-seat House race than it is to win against an entrenched incumbent. There are a few exceptions to that rule (usually when there’s a scandal-laden incumbent), but that’s the rule.

House Republicans are facing a very challenging election year, as several GOP House members representing vulnerable districts are retiring, creating what should be competitive open-seat races.

The latest is Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who narrowly carried his own San Diego-area district in 2016. But others whose seats have some reasonable chance of changing hands include Charlie Dent (Allentown, Pa.), Joe Barton (Houston), Lynn Jenkins (Eastern Kansas), Frank LoBiondo (South Jersey), Dave Reichert (Suburban Seattle), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Miami), and Dave Trott (Northwestern Detroit suburbs).

Those retirees alone account for eight seats — one third of what Democrats need to take control of the House. And that’s also assuming that Republicans hold on in all upcoming special elections.

In short, the Democrats are winning the retirement war. For this and other reasons, they stand a very decent chance of taking the U.S. House this fall, barring a significant change in the political winds.

Governor 2018

Missouri: The bloom is off the rose for Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, R, who admitted last week to an extramarital affair before he was elected governor. Evidence of the affair was brought forward by the ex-husband of his former lover, a fact that all on its own suggests this is going to be ugly.

Mere adultery may seem like a lame scandal in 2018, but the worst part of the story is the allegation that Greitens met his former lover’s threats to expose him with threats to release photographs of her in the nude. He strongly denies this, but if anything leads to his downfall, that would be it. For the moment, he’s responding to the revelations with a charm offensive. And on the inside, he is surely hoping that the three years until his re-election are as long as they can possibly be.

Senate 2018

Arizona: Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio jumped into the

Joe Arpaio, Photo by Gage Skidmore

governor’s race last week. The pardoned felon, long obsessed with President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, lost re-election in 2016. Even so, he is still a well-known figure with a large fan-base. By getting in now, he splits the anti-establishment voter base that former state Sen. Kelli Ward had counted on dominating before Sen. Republican Jeff Flake dropped out of the race.

Rep. Martha McSally’s official announcement for Senate deftly exploits this fissure. Arpaio’s presence might well make for a three-way primary election that McSally can win, according to a new poll. Although she continues to draw only about one-third of the primary vote, McSally now leads the pack with a plurality, thanks to Arpaio gobbling up about half of Ward’s vote total. This is the plan to bring in a more conventional Republican nominee for Senate who will probably also have a better chance of winning in the difficult and unpredictable environment of 2018. The likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, will be formidable but has her weaknesses.

Missouri: Yet another new poll (albeit a Republican poll) shows Attorney General Josh Hawley, R, leading incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in her bid for a third term.

Even all on its own, it’s a really bad sign for an incumbent to trail this early. But it’s a lot worse that McCaskill remains exceedingly weak despite so many national signs pointing to Democratic strength. Her 2012 win was probably already a fluke, and Missouri has moved toward the GOP in the time since.

North Dakota: Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer’s surprise announcement that he will not run for Senate, even after President Trump tried to encourage him to do so, throws the race wide open to Republicans in state government. 

Republicans need to find a strong challenger to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D, as this is probably a must-win race if they hope to keep control of the Senate. But the party still at least has the state’s increasingly Republican lean moving in their favor.

Ohio: Republican Rep. Jim Renacci has officially dropped out of the crowded GOP governor’s primary and jumped into the Senate race made wide open by the departure of Treasurer Josh Mandel. He does so after being encouraged by President Trump.

Renacci has a sizeable personal fortune worth as much as $100 million, and has promised to spend liberally on this race. Most prominent Ohio Republicans, glad of the help and also glad to have him out of the governor’s race, will back him.

There is, however, one other self-funding Republican in the race, investor Mike Gibbons, who is trying to run as a local version of Trump. He had already won the endorsement of the Franklin County (Columbus) Republican Party, even when Mandel was still in the race, and he has just put $5 million of his own money into the contest, which at least makes it seem serious.

Utah: Mitt Romney is definitely in the race to succeed Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, he has made it known privately. This will return to public life one of the pre-Trump Republican Party’s best-known figures, and also one of Trump’s biggest internal rivals.