Sorry for the lack of posts over the past several weeks. With the end of the semester, holiday season, etc. its been a bit hectic. I'll try to get some new things up over the next few days.
The big news over the past forty eight hours or so has been the announced retirements of several Democratic big hitters: Senators Chris Dodd (CT) and Byron Dorgan (ND), plus Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. As we might expect, there's been tons of speculation within the mainstream press about what this says about the Democrats' chances in this year's midterms (see here, here, and here). Most of it, in my opinion, tries to create a "sky is falling" sense of hysteria.
We need to remember that so far, more Republicans have announced their retirement than Democrats. Despite the GOP's attempt to play up their chances of capturing Congress, most members realize that the math is too difficult (a point even conceded by RNC head Michael Steele). For House members, being a member of the minority is not much fun. The procedural advantages that the majority possesses gives minority members little role to play in the day to day crafting of policy. Thus, for a lot of members, this anemic position is enough to tip them toward getting out.
Back in September I did a post about congressional retirements, trying to add a little perspective to what's been transpiring. In short, I argued that in order for the Democrats to be in any real danger of losing control of Congress-- a la 1994--we'd need to see a much larger wave of defections than what we've seen to this point. Despite Dodd and Dorgan announcements, plus the recent announced retirments of Tennessee Blue Dogs John Tanner and Bart Gordon (see this earlier post about them), we're still a long ways from bed wetting time for Democrats.
The more interesting aspect of these announcements, for my money, is what their replacements will mean for the next Congress. I'm particularly interested in what will happen in the districts being vacated by House Blue Dogs like Tanner, Gordon, and KS Rep. Dennis Moore. Rather than conservative Democrats being replaced by moderate Republicans--which one might expect given the underlying ideologies of the districts--what may happen instead is that these Blue Dogs will be replaced by more conservative Republicans. Even though the districts aren't changing, we may see considerable change in who represents them. In short, many of these retirements may produce a more polarized 112th Congress.
Part of the reason for this may spring from some of the debates taking place within Republican circles these days--the "purity" vs. "big tent" conversation. To get a sense of the intra-GOP dynamic taking place across the country, check out some of these recent stories (here, here, here, and here) on the primary (or potential) races heating up on the Republican side. While the Florida contest between popular Governor (and more moderate) Charlie Crist and the more conservative Marco Rubio has been getting the most press coverage, there are other races that may complicate Republicans' efforts to have a bloodless attempt at capturing Capitol Hill. If the GOP goes through months of fractous primaries that not only produces nominees less palatable to moderate districts but also turns off voters from the losing side (and maybe even swing them to the Democratic nominee), the Democrats' fortunes may turn out much better than a lot of Washington reporters are now predicting.