For some Republicans, it’s starting to feel like 2006 — a wave election year that swept Democrats back into power in the House and Senate.
The retirement of two longtime California Republicans this week — just the latest in a string of House Republicans heading for the exits — has caused panic among some in the GOP who say it’s yet another sign that an anti-Trump, Democratic wave is forming.
“It’s a tough election cycle for Republicans; we know that going in,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenRichard Gere welcomes lawmakers’ words of support for Tibet Juan Williams: The GOP has divided America Lawmakers take to Twitter to spread the Thanksgiving cheer MORE (R-Fla.), who is not running for reelection after representing a heavily Hispanic Miami district for nearly 30 years.
“It’s starting to feel very scary for moderate Republicans,” she said.
Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaTrump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics Giffords gun group targets Issa over concealed carry bill The Hill Interview: Missouri Republican has gavel on his radar MORE, who won reelection by a slim 1,621-vote margin in 2016, said Wednesday this term would be his last, despite insisting for months that he was running for reelection.
The stunning announcement from the former Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman came just two days after another veteran Republican from Southern California, Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceState Dept insists cyber a priority despite office closure It’s time to use surgical strikes, naval blockades and more on North Korea Giffords targets 8 Republicans on conceal and carry in new ads MORE, also called it quits.
Asked for his reaction to Issa’s retirement, Democratic Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe nearly 60 Dems who voted for impeachment House rejects Democrat’s resolution to impeach Trump Pelosi, Hoyer: Now is not the time to consider impeachment MORE (Md.) paused, smiled, then exclaimed: “We’re gonna win the House back!”
The pair of retirements in California has altered the 2018 midterms landscape, forcing the House GOP’s campaign arm to decide whether it will defend two districts that overwhelmingly voted for Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE in 2016 or shift resources elsewhere.
Winning both districts could be costly. San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, who’s led a campaign to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE, this week pledged $30 million to help Democrats take back the House and said he would specifically target Issa.
Republicans have other reasons to be worried about the elections, including Trump’s approval rating, which sits in the high 30s.
History shows that a president’s party typically loses an average of 32 House seats during a midterm election. But Ros-Lehtinen said Trump might be a bigger liability than past GOP presidents in many parts of the country.
“In many districts like Darrell’s and mine, having President Trump an ever-present figure is a drag on the ticket,” she said. “In many districts, he’s a positive, but in districts like mine, it doesn’t help the Republican candidate.
“The Trump symbol, the Trump brand and Mr. Trump himself is a drag on moderate districts.”
The wave of GOP retirements in competitive districts also has set off alarm bells among some senior Republican strategists.
“I’m alarmed, but we should have already been alarmed. It’s a tough environment, and there’s a chance the Republicans can lose control of the House,” said Scott Jennings, a GOP political strategist who has worked on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE’s (R-Ky.) reelection campaigns.
“It’s starting to feel like 2006 to me,” he added, “which was a bad year for Republicans.”
Democrats picked up 31 House seats in 2006, a victory that propelled them forward to win complete control of Washington in 2008.
This year, House Democrats need to flip 24 GOP-held seats to win back the majority. And the path to that new majority runs right through Orange County and San Diego, where traditional Republican districts like Royce’s and Issa’s have been getting more diverse and trending bluer.
Other top Democratic targets in Southern California include GOP Reps. Mimi Walters, Steve Knight and Dana RohrabacherDana Tyrone RohrabacherMueller grand jury to question Flynn associate: report GOP lawmaker says FBI seeking interview about Assange meeting Pelosi blasts California Republicans for supporting tax bill MORE, a lawmaker whose ties to Russia are receiving extra scrutiny amid the investigations into 2016 election meddling.
“You can’t hold this majority if you lose California districts because California districts look like suburban Pennsylvania districts and New Jersey [swing] districts,” explained Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenOvernight Regulation: Feds push to clarify regs on bump stocks | Interior wants Trump to shrink two more monuments | Navajo Nation sues over monument rollback | FCC won’t delay net neutrality vote | Senate panel approves bill easing Dodd-Frank rules Dems push for more money for opioid fight Overnight Health Care: Ryan’s office warns he wasn’t part of ObamaCare deal | House conservatives push for mandate repeal in final tax bill | Dem wants probe into CVS-Aetna merger MORE (R-Ore.), who served as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) during the successful 2014 and 2016 cycles.
“It’s a big concern,” a GOP aide said of the pair of California retirements. “These Orange County seats are majority makers.
“I hope [Rohrabacher] retires,” the aide added. “That’s a seat that can be held.”
But other retirements certainly aren’t helping the GOP. In addition to Issa, Royce and Ros-Lehtinen, moderate Reps. Charlie DentCharles(Charlie) Wieder DentJuan Williams: The GOP has divided America Republicans pursue two-week spending bill GOP could punt funding fight to January MORE (R-Pa.), Dave TrottDavid Alan TrottRomney backs challenger in Michigan MORE (R-Mich.), Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertMcCarthy: Virginia election ‘makes me nervous’ 12 House Republicans object to Alaska refuge oil drilling proposal Ads target House Republicans over tax reform MORE (R-Wash.) and Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoJuan Williams: The GOP has divided America The 13 House Republicans who voted against the GOP tax plan House passes sweeping tax bill in huge victory for GOP MORE (R-N.J.) are not seeking reelection, providing more pick-up opportunities for Democrats.
The Cook Political Report, a campaign handicapper in Washington, moved Royce’s seat from “lean Republican” to “lean Democratic” this week; it moved Issa’s seat from “toss up” to “lean Democratic.”
“If you’re NRCC chairman, the last thing you want is a retirement in almost every case,” Walden told The Hill.
But he added that retirements sometimes allow a party to recruit a strong candidate who doesn’t have the political baggage of a veteran lawmaker.
“It does allow a reset,” Walden said.
Walden and many other senior Republicans insist they aren’t panicking, despite the fresh warning signs. Because of 2010 redistricting, most congressional districts are “baked in,” drawn in a way that favors either Republicans or Democrats, resulting in fewer swing districts than in past decades.
Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: ‘I worry about both sides’ of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges ‘entitlement reform’ next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.) and other Republicans believe they have a winning campaign message in 2018, as most Americans will see a boost in their paychecks and lower tax bills following the historic passage last month of the tax overhaul. Republicans are also touting a slew of regulatory reforms and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
“I think it’s more likely that the House would change majorities than the Senate, given the map,” said Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerIt makes no sense for federal policies to prevent charities from assisting Americans Chances for government shutdown rising The Hill’s Whip List: Where Republicans stand on tax-reform bill MORE (R-N.D.), “but we have also done some good things that we can campaign on, and hopefully we will do some good things [this year] that we will continue to campaign on.”
Jennings, the GOP strategist, said he has a high degree of confidence in Ryan and the campaign team led by current NRCC Chairman Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversThe Hill Interview: Missouri Republican has gavel on his radar GOP House campaign group chief touts Republican success in Georgia race White House bashes GOP effort to delay regs on predatory loans to troops MORE (R-Ohio), especially given their big legislative victory on taxes.
Two Ryan-aligned super PACs — the American Action Network and Congressional Leadership Fund — said they raised a record $66 million in 2017, helping the latter to open offices in 27 GOP-held districts this cycle, including in California.
“I know the political team around Speaker Ryan has been anticipating open seats in tough districts. I don’t think anyone is caught flat-footed,” Jennings said. “But what I’m worried about is the macro conditions that appear to be lining up against Republicans.”
“The Republicans can hang on … but it’s gonna take a lot of focus and smart campaigns,” he added.
Some GOP sources familiar with the NRCC’s operation are conceding the party could lose as many as 15 seats this fall, but that would still keep the House in Republican hands.
The wild card, of course, is whether any more vulnerable Republicans decide they’ve had enough of Congress. Other long-serving Republicans who’ve landed on Democrats’ retirement watch list include former Energy Chairman Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonSenate GOP repeals ObamaCare mandate House GOP to prioritize ethanol, pipeline legislation GOP: House to vote Friday on opioid bill MORE (R-Mich.), Appropriations Chairman Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenConservative lawmakers met to discuss GOP chairman’s ouster Overnight Finance: GOP delays work on funding bill amid conservative demands | Senate panel approves Fed nominee Powell | Dodd-Frank rollback advances | WH disputes report Mueller subpoenaed Trump bank records Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won’t fire official who sued him MORE (R-N.J.), Rules Chairman Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsTexas journalist resigns to run for Pete Sessions’s House seat House forges ahead with Dec. 22 spending bill Seven Texas lawmakers leaving Congress means a younger, more diverse delegation MORE (R-Texas), Rep. Leonard LanceLeonard LanceAn overlooked solution to the opioid epidemic GOP rep: Taxpayer money should not pay for settlements The 13 House Republicans who voted against the GOP tax plan MORE (R-N.J.) and Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingThe 13 House Republicans who voted against the GOP tax plan House passes sweeping tax bill in huge victory for GOP House GOP set for big tax win MORE (R-N.Y.).
So far, all have indicated they are running for another term.
When asked if he would retire after 12 terms in the House, Frelinghuysen replied tersely, “Certainly not.”
Sessions, too, said he’s not going anywhere, even though Clinton beat Trump in his Dallas-area district by roughly 2 percentage points.
“I still have a good bit of things that I intend not only to get done, but to see through,” Sessions, who’s served since 2003, told The Hill. “This is an important time for our conference to express what we’re doing for the American people [and] to go help sell that fight.”
Melanie Zanona and Cristina Marcos contributed.
This post originally appeared on The Hill