How Much Do Recent Retirements Change House Battleground?

July 25, 2019 · 9:57 PM EDT

Republicans Reps. Pete Olson of Texas and Paul Mitchell of Michigan recently announced they will not seek re-election, but how much does their decision impact the fight for the House majority? Open seats are usually more vulnerable than districts where an incumbent is seeking another term, but these two retirements aren’t political earthquakes. 

First of all, we are still well below the historical average for retirements, so there will be plenty more of these stories to come. 

Going back to 1976, an average of 23 House members have not sought re-election or another office each election cycle. So far this cycle, just seven have made that announcement. That includes Olson and Mitchell, but also Utah’s Rob Bishop, who is reconsidering his decision, and Indiana’s Susan Brooks, who is leading recruitment for the NRCC. That means more retirements will come and competitive open seats could change the fight for the majority.

But Olson’s decision doesn’t alter the landscape all that much. 

His announcement shouldn’t have been a complete surprise. There had been speculation about a potential Olson retirement since at least January, since he might have faced competitive primary and general elections with the final reward of being in the minority and seeing his seat carved up in the next round of redistricting after the 2020 elections. And Olson’s Houston-area seat was already rated as competitive and counted among Republicans’ 30 vulnerable districts around the country.

Handicapping and analyzing the performance of the 22nd District depends on which number you want to focus on. For example, in 2016, President Donald Trump received just 52 percent of the vote but he carried the district by 8 points against Hillary Clinton. GOP Sen. Ted Cruz received just 50 percent in the 22nd but Democrat Beto O’Rourke raised and spent $80 million to get that close. Democrat Sri Kulkarni came within 5 points of defeating Olson in 2018 without help from national Democrats, but he also didn’t have to endure negative GOP ads that come with being a top-tier race. 

Some Republicans are confident that they can find a candidate who will run a better campaign than Olson. But they can’t ignore the demographic realities of the seat. Republicans represent just six of the 105 districts where foreign-born residents make up more than 20 percent of the population, according to Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux, including the 22nd District where over a quarter of the population is foreign-born. That’s a clear trend that isn’t working in favor of Republicans.

While not as diverse, Texas’ 22nd feels somewhat similar to Indiana’s 5th District, where Brooks announced she will not seek re-election. Mitt Romney won the seat by 17 points while Trump carried by 12 points in 2016. But Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly carried the 5th in 2018, even though he lost statewide. We have that rated as Likely Republican. 

We’ve had Texas 22 rated as Lean Republican since the beginning of the cycle. And even though retirement news is intoxicating for instant analysis on Twitter, Lean Republican is a fine placeholder for the race as the GOP field and electoral cycle develops. If Republicans are losing districts Trump won by 8 points in 2016, we’ll be moving a lot more races than Olson’s seat in Texas. 
The fallout from GOP Rep. Paul Mitchell’s announcement earlier in the week is a little easier to analyze. 

President Trump carried Michigan’s 10th District 64-32 percent in 2016. In 2018, Republicans were swept out of the statewide offices, yet Bill Schuette carried the 10th in the race for governor with 57 percent and John James won the 10th with 58 percent in the U.S. Senate race. 

We continue to rate Michigan’s 10th District as Solid Republican.