By Suzy Khimm
In a political climate that seems to be turning more and more treacherous for Democrats, many have focused on the wave of Democratic retirements that could weaken the party's standing in the House this year, as I noted on Monday. Chris Cillizza gamely points out that Republican retirements in the House are growing as well, potentially increasing the GOP's vulnerabilities in 2010:
Republicans currently carry 14 open seats while Democrats have 10. Each side has three seats won by the other party's presidential candidate in 2008 ... All told, Republicans are defending nine open seats that McCain either lost or won with less than 60 percent of the vote in 2008 while Democrats are on defense in seven seats lost by Obama or won with less than 60 percent.
As Cillizza notes, such figures suggest that Democrats aren't necessarily headed for a "doomsday scenario" in 2010, as the conventional wisdom now seems to predict. The latest House Republican to retire─five-term Congressman Henry Brown of South Carolina, who announced his decision yesterday─bested his Democratic challenger in 2008 by only 4 points, 52 percent to 48 percent. And though Brown's district does skew conservative, McCain won the district last year by a similar margin of 56 to 42 percent.
That's not to underplay the challenges that the Democrats still face this campaign season and the double-digit losses they are likely to incur in the House, even in the best-case scenario. Last year, Democratic candidates across the country received a boost from enthusiastic Obama supporters who turned out at the polls. This year, according to one Democratic pollster's analysis, less than two thirds (64 percent) of Democrats say they're "extremely likely" to vote in 2010, versus 77 percent of Republicans and independents. The enthusiasm gap and anti-incumbency fervor are such that Democratic consultants are advising their clients against focusing at all on the Democratic Party, Obama, or the legislative battles in Congress, as Thomas Edsall reports.
But the Republican political machine has yet to capitalize upon all these opportunities and translate grassroots-level enthusiasm into concrete gains, as the massive fundraising gap between the two parties makes clear. The increasing number of GOP retirements will require even more financing and attention from the National Republican Congressional Committee, demanding resources that are already stretched thin. And though voters across the political spectrum may be dissatisfied with the status quo, the growing anger against incumbents could conceivably put Republican seats at risk as well, argues Democratic consultant Joe Trippi. While the NRCC may be talking a big game about retaking the House, it may have to put up a fight just to hold onto some of its current seats─much less make up the 79-seat gap between the GOP and the current Democratic majority.