Is a 2020 U.S. House Republican majority bid about to get washed out?
House Republicans watched their chances shrink in recent days when U.S. Reps. Kenny Marchant and Will Hurd of Texas became the latest GOP lawmakers to announce they won’t run for re-election next November. Marchant is the 11th House Republican to say he won't run again.
And it could get much worse.
“We could be headed for the neighborhood of 30 retirements, which would be historically on the high side,” Dave Wasserman, House race editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told the Washington Examiner. “This could just be the beginning.”
Republicans need to flip 18 seats held by Democrats to regain the majority next year.
It’s not an impossible goal. The Cook Political Report lists 17 Democratic-held seats in the “toss up” category and many more than that in a slightly less competitive category.
But with Hurd’s departure from a battleground seat in southwest Texas now favoring a Democrat, Republicans will need to spend money and effort fighting to keep it in GOP hands.
A wave of more Republican retirements in swing districts could make regaining the majority impossible.
GOP Reps. Pete Olson of Texas, Rob Woodall of Georgia, and Susan Brooks of Indiana, said they are not running again in their swing districts, and those races are now listed as highly competitive.
“Republicans can’t afford to have too many more members retire from competitive districts if they want to stay within striking distance of a House majority in 2020,” Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, told the Washington Examiner.
Hurd’s seat may be the toughest for Republicans to hold.
Hurd represents Texas’s fickle 23rd District, running along the majority of the state's border with Mexico, just north of the Rio Grande. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke prevailed there in 2018, but so did Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
It’s a true swing district, won by Mitt Romney in 2012 then Hillary Clinton in 2016.
As soon as Hurd announced his retirement, the non-partisan Cook Political Report shifted the seat into “Lean Democrat.”
“Hurd’s retirement is really damaging,” Texas-based GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak told the Washington Examiner. “It was already going to be a tough hold.”
The House Democratic fundraising and campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, seized on Hurd’s departure as a signal more GOP retirements are imminent from the traditionally red Lone Star State.
Hurd is the sixth House Republican to retire this summer and the third from Texas, a red state Democrats eye as increasingly winnable.
Democrats Friday taunted a trio of less-secure GOP incumbents from Texas: Reps. Michael McCaul, Kenny Marchant, and John Carter. All are on the DCCC’s target list of vulnerable incumbents.
“Congressmen John Carter, Kenny Marchant, and Michael McCaul are sweating bullets this morning, but it’s not from the Texas heat,” The DCCC trumpeted on Friday after Hurd’s announcement, and before Marchant made his announcement.
Wasserman said he would be “surprised” if Carter, 77, and McCaul, 57, all decided to run again.
Cook lists Marchant’s district in the “toss up” category while the McCaul and Carter seats are listed in the safer but still competitive “lean Republican” column.
House Republicans dismissed the dire predictions about their reelection prospects.
“It’s something that happens every cycle and we are prepared to deal with that,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Michael McAdams told the Washington Examiner.
McAdams took a dig at House Democrats who, unlike the GOP, do not have term limits for leaders or committee leaders. The lack of term limits rewards seniority, discouraging anyone from leaving to make way for younger leadership, he said.
“They don’t stay here for 40 years like they do on the Democratic side,” McAdams said, noting the combined age of the Democratic leadership is 268 years.
McAdams produced polls showing Republicans leading Democrats in key House districts in California, Wisconsin, Georgia, Iowa, and New Jersey.
In other words, McAdams said, “This isn’t 2018.”
Gonzales said the string of retirements does not represent a wave. At least not yet.
“We’re still well below the average number of retirements in an election cycle, so sheer number or timing isn’t particularly important,” he told the Washington Examiner.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Hurd said shifting demographics in his mostly Hispanic district made it seem unlikely Republicans can hang on to the district, where an increasingly younger voting population picked Clinton over President Trump in 2016.
Hurd criticized Trump’s recent Twitter exchanges with the the “squad” of House Democratic minority freshman women but did not specifically blame the president for his decision not to run.
Mackowiak said Trump could indeed play a role in determining who retires next.
“There are some districts where Trump is helpful and some where he is not,” Mackowiak said. “The districts where he is not helpful are the ones to watch out for.”