With 18 months left before the midterms, a spate of Democratic departures from the House is threatening to erode the party’s slim majority in the House and imperil President Joe Biden’s far-reaching policy agenda.
In the past two months, five House Democrats from competitive districts have announced they won’t seek reelection next year. They include Rep. Charlie Crist of Florida, who on Tuesday kicked off a campaign for governor, and Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who will run for the Senate seat being vacated by Rob Portman.
Three other Democrats will leave seats vacant in districts likely to see significant change once they are redrawn using the data from the 2020 census, and several more are weighing bids for higher office.
An early trickle of retirements by House members in competitive districts is often the first sign of a coming political wave. In the 2018 cycle, 48 House Republicans didn’t seek reelection — and Democrats won 14 of those vacancies. Now Republicans are salivating over the prospect of reversing that dynamic and erasing the Democrats’ six-seat advantage.
“The two biggest headaches of any cycle are redistricting and retirements, and when you have both in one cycle it’s a migraine,” said former Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2012 and 2014.
Democrats face other vexing challenges as well: Republican legislators control redistricting in key states where they can draw boundaries in their favor. Redistricting alone — with Republicans controlling mapmaking in three times as many districts as Democrats — could provide Republicans the seats they need to control the House. And historic political trends almost always work against the president’s party in midterm elections.
The prospect of losing the House majority adds a greater level of urgency for the Biden administration and congressional Democrats eager to push through expansive policy proposals. It also raises questions about the staying power of Democrats, after an election in which they barely ousted an unpopular president while suffering a surprising number of down-ballot losses in races they expected to win.