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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2018 / April 

Politics expert: Republicans’ majority in Congress ‘seriously endangered’ by wave of retirements, departures

April 16, 2018

U.S. Capitol Building

U.S. Capitol Building

Nearly two dozen House Republicans in recent weeks have announced they intend to leave office — a rate much faster than usual — with at least 43 representatives announcing they’re retiring, resigning, or running for another office.

Jason Kelly, an assistant professor of political science at Virginia Tech, notes that this wave, coupled with a number of other factors, “has seriously endangered the Republicans’ majority in the House.”

Quoting Kelly

“With President Trump’s poor polling numbers, few legislative accomplishments to campaign on, and early electoral indicators pointing to a Democratic wave in November, the unprecedented number of GOP incumbents choosing not to run for re-election and the timing of the Speaker of the House’s retirement announcement has seriously endangered the Republicans’ majority in the House.”   

“Incumbency generally insulates a party from massive losses in an unfavorable electoral environment. Seated members of congress have name recognition, a large staff, and massive fundraising advantages that help them stave off high quality challengers. For these and other reasons, the average incumbent does about ten points better than we would expect them to do if they were not incumbents. So, the fact that 19 of 43 announced Republican retirements are in districts already expected to be competitive imperils their majority. And the fact that Democrats have demonstrated an ability to beat less-than-stellar candidates in conservative districts where they wouldn’t normally be expected to beat a potted plant imperils it even further.”

“To make matters worse, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced his retirement plans in April, rather than waiting until after the midterm elections. While his retirement was widely anticipated, the timing of the announcement caught most off-guard and further jeopardizes the Republicans’ House majority. Not only will the announcement almost certainly sap the prolific fundraiser’s ability to raise millions of dollars a month, it sends a signal that the Speaker himself does not expect Republicans to maintain their majority.”

“The Speaker has explained that the timing of his retirement is so that the voters of his district can select his replacement in November. That may very well be the case, in a world where he already expects the GOP to lose the House. But I can’t imagine that Paul Ryan would announce his retirement before November if he thought there was a reasonable chance Republicans would maintain their majority.”

About Kelly

Jason Kelly is an expert in American and judicial politics, the U.S. Congress, and political parties. View his bio.

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