Dropping like flies

DROPPING LIKE FLIES…. In January, much of the media decided that retirements among congressional Democrats were evidence of shifting political winds that will greatly benefit Republicans. In one report from ABC News, Democrats were characterized as “dropping like flies.”

In the meantime, Republican retirements not only outnumber Democrats, the GOP total keeps growing.

Another House Republican, Representative John Linder of Georgia, is stepping down at the end of this session, making him the 19th to do so. He announced his decision Saturday morning in his district outside Atlanta.

Mr. Linder, an ally of fellow Georgian Newt Gingrich, was a respected fund-raiser and a reliable Republican vote during his nine terms in the House…. He has been a leading advocate of a national retail sales tax as a substitute for the current tax system and knocked off the conservative Republican Bob Barr in a 2002 primary caused by redistricting. His seat should easily remain in Republican hands.

There’s apparently some dispute about exactly how many House Republicans have announced their retirements. Most of the totals I’ve seen put the number at 19, but National Journal says it’s 20. I’m trying to nail down the precise number.

Regardless, the National Republican Congressional Committee is confident that the party will keep the seat in November, and with good cause — it’s solidly “red,” with an R+16 partisan voting index.

But it’s the larger context that still strikes me as interesting. There are 178 Republicans in the House caucus. There are now 19 House Republicans (and counting) retiring this year, seven more than among Democrats.

As a result, as we talked about a few weeks ago, more than one in 10 House GOP incumbents have decided to give up their seats in a year that’s supposed to be a wildly successful one for Republicans.

In fairness, not all retirements are created equal. There’s a qualitative difference between stepping down in a competitive district and giving up one’s seat in a “sure thing” for one party. When considering questions like the balance of power, retirements are not quite the indicator some in the media would like to believe. This is very likely true in Linder’s case — Dems will struggle badly to compete in Georgia’s 7th.

But if you ask anyone at the NRCC or DCCC for an honest opinion, I think they’d agree that when a party is supposed to have the wind at its back, and when that party’s leadership is trying to keep retirements to a minimum, having more than 10% of the caucus walk away has to be discouraging.

Indeed, just two weeks ago, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said Democratic retirements are a sign that Dems are “running for the hills because they sold out their constituents and don’t want to face them at the ballot box.”

With GOP retirements outnumbering Dems’ — by a margin that’s growing — are we to also assume that Republicans don’t want to face voters at the ballot box?