The news keeps getting better and better for a potential expansion of the Democratic majority in the House. Several prominent Republicans have recently announced they are retiring, making the Republican National Congressional Committee's ability to avoid greater losses next year even more difficult. In recent weeks, five seats in Illinois and Ohio have opened up, providing a great advantage to House Democrats.
These two states play to Democrats' strengths in 2008. Illinois voted for Kerry in 2004, and Gore in 2000. Even an unpopular Democratic governor managed an easy win in 2006, making Illinois a reliably Democratic state in 2008. If that was not enough, one of two candidates with ties to the state (Obama and Clinton) could top the ticket, making odds of an energized Democratic base and depressed Republican base more likely.
Details about Ohio, specific seats that are opening, and more broad analysis after the jump.
Ohio voted for Bush in 2004 and 2000, but vast dissatisfaction with both Bush and Taft led to a sea change in voting habits last November. Now that Democrats control most statewide offices (including, most importantly, Jennifer Brunner replacing Ken Blackwell as Secretary of State to ensure free and fair elections), Ohio is no longer safe territory for Republicans as conservative voters are glum about what the party has done here, and if I had to bet money, I would wager that the Democratic nominee for president will carry the state next November.
IL-14: Denny Hastert has confirmed that "it is time to step away."
IL-18: Ray LaHood is leaving to spend more quality time with his grandchildren.
(Meanwhile, in IL-4, Democratic incumbent Luis Gutierrez is rethinking his decision to retire.)
OH-7: Dave Hobson, according to DaytonOS, will not run again.
OH-15: Deborah Pryce has apparently concluded that it is far too difficult to raise her daughter in Columbus while maintaining a five-day work week in Washington.
OH-16: Ralph Regula has strongly hinted he is stepping down.
Most of these districts were not heavily contested in 2006, yet the new open seats still make life difficult for the GOP. First, what is a safe Republican seat in a climate where the party's approval ratings are in freefall is less certain than it was two or four years ago. Second, though (to use one example) Ray LaHood's district has been reliably Republican for decades, LaHood's fundraising advantage as an incumbent meant he was less likely to rely upon the national committee's aid to raise money and his profile. Though the next representative will likely be a Republican, the national party is probably going to have to expend resources to make certain they will retain the seat.
In the larger picture, these retirements are troublesome to the Republican National Congressional Committee. The DCCC is, to use Greg Sargent's words, crushing the RNCC in fundraising this cycle. According to the FEC,
At the end of June, Democratic party committees had $50.9 million cash on hand and debts of $11.7 million, and Republican party committees had $31.8 million in cash on hand and debts of $6.4 million.
Every dollar used to defend the seats LaHood and Hastert are leaving is a dollar that can't be used to defend Mark Kirk, Marilyn Musgrave, or Christopher Shays. The more open seats left to defend means the more the RNCC needs a fundraising advantage over the DCCC. Unless broad trends change, that will not happen -- if anything, change is likely to favor Democrats as we may see a domino effect of retirements. (This may also happen in the Senate, though since the action over the past few weeks has been in the House, I am focusing on the lower chamber in this diary.) We cannot take for granted another wave like the one that brought us the majority in 2006, but these developments make the chances of another large gain in 2008 much closer to reality.