Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Republicans Dropping Like Flies: Life in the Minority No Fun

Don't know if you've noticed it, but Republican members of Congress are announcing their retirements at a very fast clip. Seems that life in the Minority doesn't agree with them, and lots of senior Republicans decided there were more enjoyable ways to spend their golden years.

According to Roll Call's Casualty List, there are 24 members of the House not seeking a return engagement -- 22 of them are Republicans. On the Senate side, there are five announced retirements -- ALL Republicans, and some pretty big names like Sens. Chuck Hagel (NE), John Warner (VA), and Pete Domenici (NM). That's a lot of folks punching a one way ticket outta town. Combine that with resignations and the strangely high number of deaths in office this Congress, plus the usual politicians with higher aspirations, and there are a lot of open seats in this election.

Still, though, that doesn't mean a lot of these seats are really open. Thanks to the wonders of gerrymandering, a fair amount of these House seats will simply go to the latest crop of Republicans -- same shit, different Congress. Only 23 seats are thus far handicapped as toss ups. Add in the seats just leaning towards one party or another, and there are still only 47 seats truly up for grabs. That's 47 out of 435, folks -- barely more than 10 percent are going to be real contests. Good thing the presidential race is proving to be a real barn burner -- most of these congressional races will be about as exciting as licking a wall.

The Senate races are always more exciting -- our politicians can't gerrymander state boundaries, despite Tom DeLay's delusions of grandeur about redrawing the nation's electoral map in his own image. Of course, there are red states and blue states, but the twain do meet in those lovely purple states -- the states that lean slightly right or left, and can make for a very exciting Senate race. This time around, there are nine Senate seats that fall into this toss up or lean category, with all but one of the Senate seats vacated by retirement represented in that group. You can bet there was some backroom arm twisting trying to get these guys to hang around, but no dice. With only 35 seats up for grabs -- two more than usual due to some special elections -- that means more than a quarter of the Senate races are in play this year.

Yep, the lure of the political rocking chair is apparently much more alluring to these retiring Republicans after a year in the Minority -- and this mass exodus was not unexpected. In fact, it's fairly typical after a powerchange -- lots of Dems headed for the hills after the Republican Revolution in 1994. Strangely enough, though, even with all these departures, the overall make up of the House likely won't change dramatically. And while the Senate Dems can increase their majority, they won't make it to that magic number -- 60. So, for all of you looking for change this election season, keep paying attention to the presidential race. That's your best bet, since Congress will look pretty much the same come 2009 -- some new people, but the same parties, and the same power splits.

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