More Democrats Are Leaving The House — And That Could Help Republicans Win

More Democrats Are Leaving The House — And That Could Help Republicans Win

Democrats are feeling pretty buoyant these days. Last week, they won a highly competitive special election in New York’s 19th Congressional District, which came on the heels of other stronger-than-expected special election performances since the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion. And earlier this month, pro-abortion rights forces turned back a state constitutional amendment in Kansas that would have allowed for an abortion ban there. Finally, the two parties are also running neck and neck in generic ballot polling, which asks voters whether they plan to vote for the Democratic candidate or the Republican candidate this fall, after Republicans led by about 2 percentage points prior to the Dobbs ruling.

Yet if we zero in on the House, the overall terrain is still quite favorable to the GOP. After all, FiveThirtyEight’s 2022 midterm election forecast still gives Republicans about a better than 3 in 4 shot of capturing the lower chamber.2

The GOP has lost ground in the forecast since June, but its continued edge comes down to factors such as geography (Democrats are concentrated in metropolitan areas), redistricting (Republicans once again have more favorable seats) and history (the president’s party almost always loses House seats in midterms). 

But there’s one more factor that could really help Republicans this fall: More Democrats than Republicans are leaving the House, either via retirement or to run for another office. Overall, 31 Democrats are departing, compared with just 18 Republicans.3 To be sure, this is a common midterm trend — House members from the president’s party tend to leave Congress in greater numbers because the midterms usually go poorly for their side. But Republicans need to flip just four seats to gain a majority in the House,4 and it’s possible GOP victories in seats left behind by outgoing Democrats will account for at least that many. The table below lays out the most competitive districts that these Democrats and Republicans won’t be contesting. 

Exiting House Democrats have left more vulnerable turf

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives who are retiring or seeking another office ahead of the 2022 midterm elections who would likely have run in competitive congressional districts, by the seat they would have been most likely to run in and the partisan lean of that district

Representative Party New District Why they’re leaving Partisan Lean
Kathleen Rice D NY-04 Retiring D+10.4
Ted Deutch* D FL-23 Retiring D+8.8
Peter DeFazio D OR-04 Retiring D+8.7
Jerry McNerney D CA-09 Retiring D+8.5
Ed Perlmutter D CO-07 Retiring D+5.6
G.K. Butterfield D NC-01 Retiring D+5.1
Tom Suozzi D NY-03 Governor run D+3.9
Cheri Bustos D IL-17 Retiring D+3.7
John Katko R NY-22 Retiring D+2.1
Conor Lamb D PA-17 Senate run D+0.6
Lee Zeldin R NY-01 Governor run R+5.5
Ann Kirkpatrick D AZ-06 Retiring R+7.2
Ron Kind D WI-03 Retiring R+8.7
Fred Upton R MI-04 Retiring R+8.9
Charlie Crist D FL-13 Governor run R+12.2
Stephanie Murphy D FL-07 Retiring R+13.9
Bob Gibbs R OH-07 Retiring R+14.1
Anthony Gonzalez R OH-07 Retiring R+14.1

*In February, Deutch announced he wouldn’t seek another term and would resign from his seat this fall.

The partisan lean is based on the district maps that will be used in the 2022 election, with outgoing representatives assigned to the seat that they most likely would have run in had they sought reelection. Partisan lean is the average margin difference between how a state or district votes and how the country votes overall. This version of partisan lean, meant to be used for congressional and gubernatorial elections, is calculated as 50 percent the state or district’s lean relative to the nation in the most recent presidential election, 25 percent its relative lean in the second-most-recent presidential election and 25 percent a custom state-legislative lean based on the statewide popular vote in the last four state House elections.

Source: House of Representatives

Not every House departure gives Republicans a leg up, as most districts are relatively safe for one party, which you can see at the end of this article where we present the data for all 49 outgoing members. However, if we look at the most competitive districts that are up for election — defined as having partisan leans between D+15 and R+155 — we can clearly see that Democrats were more likely to have abandoned these seats than Republicans. In total, 13 Democrats left these kinds of seats versus just five Republicans, which means more Democratic-held seats are now in danger. Incumbency isn’t nearly as strong of an electoral boon as it was in the past, but it’s still likely that Democratic incumbents would have outperformed a replacement-level nominee from their party.6

To put this into context, I looked back at the terrain in 2018, when Democrats won 40 seats to take back the House amid a strongly pro-Democratic environment. That year, far more Republicans (39) than Democrats (18) retired or sought another office; however, there wasn’t quite the same pattern in Republicans vacating competitive turf — Republicans left 14 seats open with a partisan lean between D+15 and R+15, while Democrats left 10. But thanks to the especially strong environment for Democrats, who won the House popular vote by almost 9 percentage points, Democrats captured 11 of those 14 formerly Republican seats while losing just two of the other 10.

Compared with 2018, though, the 2022 generic ballot polling points to a far more competitive environment, which means Republicans can’t count on sweeping these competitive seats. (Although, we should note that the generic ballot tends to underestimate Republicans.) That said, this cycle’s Democratic departures have still presented Republicans with a number of flippable seats. 

To name a few: Arizona’s independent redistricting commission shifted the state’s southeastern district to the right, and while Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick retired well before the map was finalized, Democrats might wish she’d stuck around to defend an R+7 seat that now looks like a good bet to go Republican. Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Ron Kind’s GOP-leaning 3rd District in western Wisconsin didn’t change much in redistricting, but Kind’s close 2020 victory over Republican Derrick Van Orden suggested it’d be tough to hold, and with the 13-term incumbent now retiring, Van Orden looks favored to win the seat this November. Finally, in western Illinois, Democratic mapmakers actually made Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos’s 17th District bluer — it shifted from R+5 to D+4 — but Bustos had already announced her retirement, and now the seat is rated as a toss-up in our forecast with Bustos’s 2020 opponent, Republican Esther Joy King, facing Democrat Eric Sorensen.

It’s true that Democrats are also slight favorites in some competitive seats their incumbents left behind, but those districts are far from safe — especially if the environment gets better for the GOP as we get into the fall, which often happens for the out party in midterm elections. 

Failed runs for higher office by Reps. Conor Lamb (U.S. Senate) and Tom Suozzi (governor) have still left marginally Democratic-leaning seats open in Pennsylvania’s 17th District and New York’s 3rd District. Meanwhile, Colorado Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter announced his retirement from the suburban-Denver-based 7th District after the state’s independent redistricting commission made it a D+6 seat. As such, it’s favored to remain Democratic, although it is still far more competitive than it would have been under the old D+15 lines. Finally, in eastern North Carolina, Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield left behind the state’s 1st District when the GOP-controlled legislature erased its Democratic-leaning advantage, but the court-drawn map that replaced the legislature’s lines gave Democrats a bit of a reprieve, giving the formerly D+7 seat a partisan lean of D+5.

There are limits to incumbency, though, as it’s unlikely incumbency would have saved Democrats’ chances in four seats in Florida, Ohio and Tennessee, where Republican-drawn maps have probably ensured GOP wins. For instance, Reps. Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy’s seats sharply shifted to the right in Florida, while Rep. Tim Ryan’s seat was obliterated in Ohio and Rep. Jim Cooper’s Nashville-area seat swung all the way from D+17 to R+15. (As some of these districts fell outside the competitive range, you can see some of these members in the table below.)

Republicans, meanwhile, just don’t have as many departures that threaten GOP control. Just two seats in New York might cost Republicans: Rep. John Katko’s seat in the 22nd, which has a slight Democratic lean, though Katko had prevailed under these conditions before, and Rep. Lee Zeldin’s seat in the 1st District, which ultimately retained a partisan lean of R+5 and is somewhat favored to remain in GOP hands.

All told, we’re not talking about a huge number of seats affected by departures this year, but every seat counts in a political universe with fewer swing seats and more dark-blue and dark-red turf. Moreover, the disproportionate number of Democratic departures and the fact that many have come in potentially competitive seats could give the GOP a boost in November. Republicans only need to flip four seats to gain the barest of majorities, so anything that bolsters their chances is meaningful.

Here is the full list of all 49 outgoing members:

All the Democrats and Republicans calling it quits

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives who are retiring or seeking another office ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, by the district they likely would have sought reelection in and the partisan lean of that seat

Representative Party New District Why they’re leaving Partisan Lean
Anthony Brown D MD-04 Atty. Gen. run D+74.8
Karen Bass D CA-37 Mayoral run D+71.9
Jackie Speier D CA-15 Retiring D+53.9
Eddie Bernice Johnson D TX-30 Retiring D+50.9
Albio Sires D NJ-08 Retiring D+46.5
Brenda Lawrence D MI-13 Retiring D+45.7
Lucille Roybal-Allard D CA-42 Retiring D+43.5
Alan Lowenthal D CA-42 Retiring D+43.5
Bobby Rush D IL-01 Retiring D+40.8
Kai Kahele D HI-02 Governor run D+31.6
David Price D NC-04 Retiring D+30.2
Val Demings D FL-10 Senate run D+29.0
Peter Welch D VT-AL Senate run D+27.5
John Yarmuth D KY-03 Retiring D+20.5
Jim Langevin D RI-02 Retiring D+16.5
Mike Doyle D PA-12 Retiring D+15.1
Kathleen Rice D NY-04 Retiring D+10.4
Ted Deutch* D FL-23 Retiring D+8.8
Peter DeFazio D OR-04 Retiring D+8.7
Jerry McNerney D CA-09 Retiring D+8.5
Ed Perlmutter D CO-07 Retiring D+5.6
G.K. Butterfield D NC-01 Retiring D+5.1
Tom Suozzi D NY-03 Governor run D+3.9
Cheri Bustos D IL-17 Retiring D+3.7
John Katko R NY-22 Retiring D+2.1
Conor Lamb D PA-17 Senate run D+0.6
Lee Zeldin R NY-01 Governor run R+5.5
Ann Kirkpatrick D AZ-06 Retiring R+7.2
Ron Kind D WI-03 Retiring R+8.7
Fred Upton R MI-04 Retiring R+8.9
Charlie Crist D FL-13 Governor run R+12.2
Stephanie Murphy D FL-07 Retiring R+13.9
Bob Gibbs R OH-07 Retiring R+14.1
Anthony Gonzalez R OH-07 Retiring R+14.1
Jim Cooper D TN-05 Retiring R+15.4
Tim Ryan D OH-14 Senate run R+18.6
Chris Jacobs R NY-23 Retiring R+22.9
Van Taylor R TX-03 Retiring R+23.0
Kevin Brady R TX-08 Retiring R+25.7
Adam Kinzinger R IL-16 Retiring R+25.8
Trey Hollingsworth R IN-09 Retiring R+29.9
Jody Hice R GA-10 Sec. State run R+31.4
Mo Brooks R AL-05 Senate run R+32.1
Ted Budd R NC-08 Senate run R+37.8
Fred Keller R PA-09 Retiring R+40.9
Vicky Hartzler R MO-04 Senate run R+44.9
Billy Long R MO-07 Senate run R+47.2
Louie Gohmert R TX-01 Atty. Gen. run R+50.0
Markwayne Mullin R OK-02 Senate run R+55.0

*In February, Deutch announced he wouldn’t seek another term and would resign from his seat this fall.

The partisan lean is based on the district maps that will be used in the 2022 election, with outgoing representatives assigned to the seat that they most likely would have run in had they sought reelection. Partisan lean is the average margin difference between how a state or district votes and how the country votes overall. This version of partisan lean, meant to be used for congressional and gubernatorial elections, is calculated as 50 percent the state or district’s lean relative to the nation in the most recent presidential election, 25 percent its relative lean in the second-most-recent presidential election and 25 percent a custom state-legislative lean based on the statewide popular vote in the last four state House elections.

Source: House of Representatives

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