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How a rash of GOP retirements may portend a Democratic wave in November

How a rash of GOP retirements may portend a Democratic wave in November
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin tops the list of Republican retirements from Congress, which has set a modern-day record. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

They're headed for the exits in Congress, more than 60 lawmakers in all, deciding they've had enough and opting to quit rather than run again in November.

Some — like Minnesota's Democratic Sen. Al Franken, Michigan's Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. and Arizona's Republican Rep. Trent Franks — were chased out by sexual harassment charges.

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Others, like GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, wished to spare themselves what looked to be uphill reelection fights.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said he wants to spend more time with his family, though leaving frees him of the constant tension between warring GOP factions and the stresses of dealing with an unpredictable president.

Many more are leaving the House to advance their careers, running for Senate or seeking the governor's office back home.

Historically, it's proved easier to win an open seat than oust an incumbent, which heartens Democrats vying to seize control of the House. Faced with a modern-day record for retirements, Republicans will be defending far more open seats in November than Democrats, who need a gain of 23 to take over.

The GOP is in better shape in the Senate, where Democrats need to pick up just two seats for control, but have many more vulnerable incumbents to defend.

Despite Democratic optimism, however, there is no clear correlation between congressional retirements and a so-called wave election.

Congressional retirements during midterm election years

Year Administration Democrats retired Republicans retired Seat swing
Year2018 AdministrationDonald Trump Democrats retired19 Republicans retired44 Seat swing?
Year2014 AdministrationBarack Obama Democrats retired14 Republicans retired17 Seat swing+22 Republicans
Year2010 AdministrationBarack Obama Democrats retired23 Republicans retired21 Seat swing+69 Republicans
Year2006 AdministrationGeorge W. Bush Democrats retired11 Republicans retired18 Seat swing+36 Democrats
Year2002 AdministrationGeorge W. Bush Democrats retired14 Republicans retired27 Seat swing+10 Republicans
Year1998 AdministrationBill Clinton Democrats retired20 Republicans retired18 Seat swing+5 Democrats
Year1994 AdministrationBill Clinton Democrats retired34 Republicans retired23 Seat swing+60 Republicans

Sources: American Presidency Project, Times Research

The departure of 63 lawmakers is the most since 1994, which was a tsunami of a midterm election. The GOP gained 60 congressional seats at that midpoint of the Clinton administration, including 54 in the House, thus ending Democrats' decades-long hold on the chamber.

The second-highest number of retirements came in 2010, another wave year, when Republicans won nearly 70 seats to seize control of the House under President Obama and made big gains in the Senate.

But there was also a significant number of retirements in 2002, when the GOP picked up seats under President George W. Bush. In that election, with the trauma surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks still fresh, Republicans broke the longtime pattern of midterm losses for the party in the White House.

It won't be clear until Nov. 6 whether this congressional exodus signals a wave, or merely the fact that dozens of Washington lawmakers decided life was better elsewhere.

Senate retirements
Member Party Reason
photo NameJeff Flake
Arizona
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in October 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameAl Franken
Minnesota
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced resignation amid a sexual misconduct scandal in December 2017; left office in January
photo NameThad Cochran
Mississippi
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in March that he would resign April 1 for health reasons
photo NameBob Corker
Tennessee
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in September 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameOrrin G. Hatch
Utah
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in January that he would not seek reelection this year
House retirements
Member Party Reason
photo NameMartha McSally
Arizona
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in January that she would run for Senate
photo NameTrent Franks
Arizona
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced amid a sexual misconduct investigation in December 2017 that he would resign immediately
photo NameKyrsten Sinema
Arizona
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in September 2017 that she would run for Senate
photo NameEd Royce
California (Fullerton)
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in January that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameDarrell Issa
California (Vista)
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in January that he would not seek reelection; may run to represent a different district
photo NameJared Polis
Colorado
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in June 2017 that he would run for governor this year
photo NameElizabeth Esty
Connecticut
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in April 2018 that she would not seek reelection this year
photo NameRon DeSantis
Florida
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in January that he would run for governor this year
photo NameIleana Ros-Lehtinen
Florida
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in April 2017 that she would not seek reelection this year
photo NameDennis Ross
Florida
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in April 2018 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameColleen Hanabusa
Hawaii
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in January that she would run for governor
photo NameRaul R. Labrador
Idaho
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in May 2017 that he would run for governor this year
photo NameLuis V. Gutiérrez
Illinois
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in November 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameTodd Rokita
Indiana
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in August 2017 that he would run for Senate
photo NameLuke Messer
Indiana
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in July 2017 that he would run for Senate this year
photo NameLynn Jenkins
Kansas
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in January 2017 that she would not seek reelection this year
photo NameJohn Delaney
Maryland
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in July 2017 that he would not seek reelection but instead run for president in 2020
photo NameNiki Tsongas
Massachusetts
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in August 2017 that she would not seek reelection this year
photo NameSander M. Levin
Michigan
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in December 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameDave Trott
Michigan
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in September 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameJohn Conyers Jr.
Michigan
PartyDemocratic StatusResigned in December 2017 amid sexual misconduct allegations
photo NameRick Nolan
Minnesota
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnnounced in February 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameTim Walz
Minnesota
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in March 2017 that he would not seek reelection but would run for governor this year
photo NameGregg Harper
Mississippi
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in January that he would not seek reelection
photo NameCarol Shea-Porter
New Hampshire
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in October 2017 that she would not seek reelection this year
photo NameFrank A. LoBiondo
New Jersey
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in November 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameRodney Frelinghuysen
New Jersey
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in January that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameMichelle Lujan Grisham
New Mexico
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in December 2016 that she would not seek reelection but would run for governor this year
photo NameSteve Pearce
New Mexico
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in July 2017 that he would not seek reelection but would run for governor this year
photo NameJacky Rosen
Nevada
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in July 2017 that she would not seek reelection but would run for Senate
photo NameRuben Kihuen
Nevada
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced amid a sexual misconduct investigation that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NamePat Tiberi
Ohio
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in October that he would resign in January for a position outside government
photo NameJames B. Renacci
Ohio
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in January that he would not seek reelection but would run for Senate this year
photo NameRobert A. Brady
Pennsylvania
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in January that he would not seek reelection
photo NameRyan Costello
Pennsylvania
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in March that he would not seek reelection
photo NamePatrick Meehan
Pennsylvania
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in January amid sexual harassment allegations that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameBill Shuster
Pennsylvania
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in January that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameLou Barletta
Pennsylvania
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in August 2017 that he would not seek reelection but would run for Senate this year
photo NameCharlie Dent
Pennsylvania
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in September 2017 that he would not seek reelection
photo NameTim Murphy
Pennsylvania
PartyRepublican StatusResigned amid a sex and abortion scandal in October 2017
photo NameTrey Gowdy
South Carolina
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in January that he would not seek reelection and planned to work in the legal field
photo NameKristi Noem
South Dakota
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in November 2016 that she would not seek reelection but would run for governor this year
photo NameJohn J. Duncan Jr.
Tennessee
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in July 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year so he can spend more time with his family
photo NameDiane Black
Tennessee
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in August 2017 that she would run for governor this year instead of seeking reelection
photo NameMarsha Blackburn
Tennessee
PartyRepublican StatusAnnnounced in October 2017 that she would run for Senate instead of seeking reelection this year
photo NameTed Poe
Texas
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in November 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameSam Johnson
Texas
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in January 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameJeb Hensarling
Texas
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in October 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameJoe L. Barton
Texas
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in November 2017 amid a sexual misconduct scandal that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameBeto O’Rourke
Texas
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in March 2017 that he would run for Senate this year instead of seeking reelection
photo NameLamar Smith
Texas
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in November 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameBlake Farenthold
Texas
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced resignation in April 2018, months after reports that he’d settled a sexual harassment lawsuit with taxpayer money
photo NameGene Green
Texas
PartyDemocratic StatusAnnounced in November 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameThomas Garrett
Virginia
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in May 2018 that he would not seek reelection, citing his struggles with alcoholism
photo NameRobert W. Goodlatte
Virginia
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in November 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameDave Reichert
Washington
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in September 2017 that he would not seek reelection this year
photo NameEvan Jenkins
West Virginia
PartyRepublican StatusAnnnounced in May 2017 that he would run for Senate instead of seeking reelection this year
photo NamePaul Ryan
Wisconsin
PartyRepublican StatusAnnounced in April 2018 that he would not seek reelection this year
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UPDATES:

5:25 p.m., May 29: This article was updated with Republican Rep. Thomas Garrett of Virginia announcing he would not seek reelection.

8:30 a.m, April 12: This article was updated to reflect the record number of Republican retirements.

8:45 a.m., April 11: This article was updated with the announced retirements of Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and GOP Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida.

11:45 a.m., April 10: This article was updated with the resignation of Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas.

5:30 p.m., April 2: The article was updated with the announced retirement of Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut.

The article was originally published at 3 a.m. on March 27.

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