Democratic House Retirements Indicate Difficulties for the Party in 2022
House Democrats Quit Before Losing Majority
With G.K Butterfield’s (NC-01) announcement that he will not run for re-election in 2022, Democrats are down another incumbent who would increase their chances of holding a tossup district. Butterfield won re-election by 8 points in 2020, but North Carolina Republicans targetted his district and made it 6 points more Republican in the CST-13 map (approved along party lines last week). Butterfield is not alone among Democrats who have opted to retire before the coming election cycle, as 15 others are in their final term as a House of Representatives member, compared to only 10 Republicans. Even more worrisome for Democrats, 10 of the 16 Democrats are retiring from politics completely, while only 4 of the 10 Republicans do not plan to run for a different position. These mass retirements signal the gloom that is now so present in the Democratic Party, especially among House Democrats who prepare to lose the chamber in 2022.
Democrats Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-02), Cheri Bustos (IL-17), and Ron Kind (WI-03) are all retiring as well, and Republicans will likely be favored to flip all three seats in 2022. Although Kirkpatrick and Butterfield are in their 70s, Bustos and Kind are only 60 and 59 years old, respectively. None of these four Democrats have announced intentions to run for another position, and if the GOP flips these four seats, the party comes within one seat of winning the house. This flip could come in suburban Pittsburg, where Democrat Conor Lamb (PA-17) retired from the house to run for Senate. Lamb has been holding a Republican-leaning district for years after winning a special election to kick off the Democrats' Blue Wave in the 2018 midterms. Democrats are disappointed he is retiring from the House when he is not even the favorite to win the Democratic Primary for the open Senate seat.
Although Democrats very well may not lose all five of these seats (and certainly would not have won all the seats if the incumbents ran for re-election), losing high-quality incumbents seriously hurts any chance the Democrats have left to keep control of the chamber. For example, before G.K. Butterfield retired, Democrats had a 44% chance to win NC-02 in 2022, according to our model. Now, with the seat open, Veritium Insights only gives Democrats a 28% chance to hold his seat.
Democrats’ South Texas Shuffle
Democrats also have to deal with the retirement of Filemon Vela Jr. in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, which has set off a chain reaction that could lead to Democrats losing yet another seat. Vela Jr. won re-election in TX-34 by 14 points in 2020 but announced his retirement earlier this year. TX-34 was drawn to be a Democratic vote sink by Republicans during redistricting, who looked to target the neighboring TX-15 incumbent Vincente Gonzales. Gonzales only won by 3 points in a district of similar partisan lean to Vela. After Vela retired, Gonzales decided to switch districts to the darker blue TX-34, where he is much more likely to be re-elected. Democrats requested Gonzales’ home in McAllen to be drawn into TX-34, and Republicans were happy to allow Gonzales to ditch his old district to help their chances of winning TX-15. Gonzales is likely to face primary competition from those who attack him for changing districts for political expediency and leaving Republicans a relatively easy win in TX-15 in 2022. The TX-34 Democratic Primary may shape up to be one of the more interesting primaries of the cycle if Gonzales faces a serious challenger. Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez (R-TX), who was so close to defeating Gonzalez in 2020, is the favorite in TX-15 in 2022. Veritium rates TX-15 as "Likely R," giving Republicans an 83% chance to flip the district. Trump won the new district by 3 points in 2020 during a poor environment, so it would take a major regression among Hispanic voters for Republicans to fail to flip the district.