Is there an unusual number of congressional retirements this year?

By: CBS
By: CBS

Washington, DC (CBS) - With less than nine months until the 2014 midterm elections, it’s nearly past time for members of Congress to decide whether they are in or out for their next race.

That’s why there have been a wave of retirement announcements in the last few months, with 19 House members and six senators saying they're heading for the doors (Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is also leaving this year but it's due to illness in the middle of his term).

The numbers may seem high, but in fact, they’re right on par – or even under – historical averages. From 1976 to 2012, the average number of retirements is 22 from the House, according to Roll Call’s Stu Rothenberg. The average number of Senate retirements during the same period – calculated using Roll Call’s years of so-called "casualty” lists -- is six, exactly where it is this year.

What’s more interesting than the raw numbers are the actual people who are retiring. Three of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s top allies are retiring: Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman and George Miller of California, and Jim Moran of Virginia. Pelosi says she’s staying on and has already started her re-election paperwork, but the message is clear: Democrats are not enthused about the prospects of returning to power anytime soon, the view of most pundits.

“The House looks to stay Republican,” says CBS News Elections Director Anthony Salvanto. “Everyone’s up, but only about 15 percent of the seats are really contested.”

Pelosi’s not alone, though. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is also losing Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., two of his close confidantes in the chamber, and senatorial pal Saxby Chambliss of Georgia is also on his way out, which spurred speculation that Boehner himself may be ready to hang up his hat once he finishes four years of leading a fractious and divided House Republican conference. So far, that’s not the case – he has filed paperwork for reelection and an aide says he intends to stay on as speaker – but Washington will be keeping a close eye on his moves. He also purchased a condo in Florida recently, though his office insists it was just a way to stop pouring money into rentals year after year at a favorite vacation spot.

If the pair were to leave, it would be momentous: both have been atop their parties for the better part of the last decade.

Money

The Republican National Committee (RNC) announced Thursday that it raised $7.8 million in January 2014 and has $9.8 million cash on hand. Its Democratic counterpart, the Democratic National Committee have yet to release fundraising totals, but the RNC has had a strong few months and has already amassed $88.4 million for the 2014 election cycle.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $6.55 million in January and has $15 million cash on hand and $2.5 million in debt. They outdid their National Republican Senatorial Committee which told Politico this week that it had raised $4.62 million in January, and has $10 million cash on hand with no debt. Still, Republicans will likely work to catch up. “Republicans start with a good shot to win the Senate,” Salvanto said. The pace of fundraising has been robust on both sides, with candidates in Senate races raising more than half a million dollars a day in 2013, according to the Associated Press.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) - the arm charged with helping Democrats in House races - raised $6.8 million in January, and beat the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) by $700,000, even though they have almost no prospect of taking over the Senate. At the end of the month, neither committee had any debt but the DCCC had $32 million in the bank, compared to $24 million for the NRCC.

Obamacare Looms for Dems

The health care law, unsurprisingly, continues to dominate the election field, but the Democrats are trying a new strategy this year: don’t ignore the issue. With the blessing of party leaders, they are being candid about the law’s problems, but pledging to fix them rather than scrap it entirely.

“Part of what we learned in 2010 is that this is a real issue of concern to voters and you can’t dodge it, you have to take it on, and I think Democrats are much more ready and willing to do that in 2014,” Democratic pollster Geoff Garin told the New York Times.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is one such lawmaker, fighting a tough reelection battle in heavily Republican Louisiana. In an ad, “Keeping the Promise,” she tells voters that she introduced legislation that would require insurers to keep offering policies that don’t comply with the law – even though the president has pledged he will veto it.

Republicans, for their part, are happy to keep hitting Democrats hard over the law, expecting results similar to their success in the 2010 midterms. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, released a new ad this week that criticizes Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. – who is also struggling in a reelection fight – for defending her vote on the law.

"It is disappointing to see Senator Hagan go on a far-left talk show to defend her decisive vote for a law that is causing cancelled insurance plans, lost access to doctors, and higher costs. Rather than continuing to play politics, Hagan should get real with North Carolina and admit that Obamacare is not the answer,” AFP President Tim Phillips said.
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