In the previous cycle, just 4 congressmen announced their retirement after January 2008; one of them, Rep. Vito Fossella, did so following a late-breaking cycle This cycle might be different: two representatives have already announced they won’t seek re-election since February started. This morning, Republican Rep. Vern Ehlers confirmed last night’s reports that he would not seek re-election, and this afternoon came news that 77-year old Rep. Diane Watson would retire as well.
While this raises the number of open seats Democrats have to defend in November to twelve, this is one district the GOP have absolutely no chance of picking-up. Located entirely in Los Angeles County and covering much of central LA, CA-33 is one of the country’s most Democratic districts: It voted for Barack Obama 87% to 12%, for John Kerry 83% to 16% and for Al Gore 83% to 14%. Watson’s successor will be decided in the June 8th primary.
That does not mean that the stakes are not high, since districts like this play a major role in determining the Democratic caucus’s ideological make-up. Watson was one of the chamber’s most left-wing members. A member of the Progressive Caucus, she voted against the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, the bill reforming FISA, June 2009’s war supplemental and the free trade agreement with Peru - all passed with substantial help among Democrats; she has also repeatedly supported the progressive budgets, introduced as amendments by the CPC. On the other hand, Watson was not that high-profile a House member, which might be due to the fact that she was already 68 when she first she joined Congress!
As such, her retirement offers the left a chance to get a more active champion out of this staunchly blue a district while also putting them at risk, since it would be quite a blow if Watson’s successor was not a committed progressive. (While it is likely that such a staunchly Democratic district produce a liberal lawmaker, there are plenty of examples of moderate-to-conservative congressmen being elected to such seats; think Harold Ford or Artur Davis, just to name a few.)
All of this said, at the moment it does not appear that the Democratic primary will be any more competitive than the general election: state Speaker Karen Bass is by all accounts preparing to enter the race, in which she would start as the undisputed favorite and should also receive Watson’s endorsement. Bass has a very progressive profile, she is “only” 57 and she would move to the House from a position of power, which potentially positions her to gain some influence on the Hill.
Will she have the primary for herself? Given that state officials are term-limited and that House districts open up so rarely, it might be tough for some Democrats to pass up this opportunity.
More open seats: Dems are in trouble in KS-03, land Arkansas candidates
In a development that was discussed in the comments section of my new House ratings, Democrats are losing their chances of defending a key open seat: KS-03. While I had left the district in the “toss-up column” because of the prospect that Kansas City Mayor Joe Reardon might run, he had in fact announced on Friday that he would do no such thing, which leaves Democrats in a very precarious position as it is now unclear where they will even manage to contest a district they have held since 1999.
State party chairman Larry Gates, who now has a dismal track record of convincing anyone to run for anything, argued in an interview Democrats had good choices left, but when a party is reduced to touting the possibility that congressional staffers could jump in a race, it doesn’t suggest it is preparing to make a full-throated effort to defend the district. The winner of the GOP primary, which opposes among other candidates state Rep. Rep. Kevin Yoder and former state Senator Nick Jordan, will move to the general election favored.
The reason this is rough news for Democrats: Of all the open House races the party is very worried about, KS-03 is a rare district that voted for Obama in 2008. The two Dem-held seats that I rated “lean takeover” (TN-06 and LA-03) both gave McCain over 60% of the vote; many of the other open seats gave the Republican decisive victories. As such, on paper KS-03 should not have been the toughest of these open seats.
On the other hand, many districts in which Obama was far weaker have been historically far more friendly to Democrats, who thus have a deeper bench; as such, the party’s Kansas failure is not necessarily a harbinger of what might happen in AR-01, AR-02 or TN-08.
Case in point, AR-01, where Democrats just landed two elected officials: state Senator Steve Bryles (who has served since 2000) and state Rep. David Cook; they’ll face Marion Berry’s chief of staff Chad Causey. Just a few days ago I was writing about the lack of activity in this district, so this is great news for the DCCC. The party will have more than a fighting chance with an experienced candidate who will run free of any association with Washington Democrats (unless Causey wins the nomination) and will thus be able to appeal to voters’ allegiance to Democrats in non-presidential races.
Democrats are also having no trouble finding candidates in AR-02. After state Speaker Robbie Wills, state Senator Joyce Elliott and Snyder’s former chief of staff David Boling, a fourth candidate announced his candidacy this week: Assistant Attorney General John Adams.
While many Democrats have been hoping that Lieutenant Governor Brian Halter jump in the race, there is now growing buzz that he is just days away from announcing a primary challenge to Senator Blanche Lincoln; this is at least what is being suggested by an unsure-sounding piece at The Arkansas Times and by Markos Moulitsas, who sounds quite confident that he will get what he wants within the next week. I’ll obviously have more on this when it comes to pass.