Will GOPers, Dems Leave House In Big Numbers in 2010?

Awaiting a flight at Reagan National Airport on January 14th, SW (Smarter Wife) and I ran into Rep. Zach Wamp (R.-Tenn.).  After eight terms in Congress, Wamp told us, he was leaving Congress in 2010 to run for governor of the Volunteer State.  As to who would succeed him as U.S. Representative from his suburban 3rd District, the conservative lawmaker would only say, “There will be several Republicans running, and that will mean a big turnout in the primary in my area, and that will help in the primary for governor.”

Wamp is one of the handful of Republican members of the “Gingrich Class” that put the House in GOP hands in 1994 still serving in Congress.  Now he is going “up or out” next year.  And he is not the only one.  Rumors abound of many more Republicans calling it quits from the House in 2010.

Another “Class of ’94” Republican, Rep. John Shadegg (Ariz.), is the subject of considerable speculation these days that he will retire in 2010.  He came very close to doing just that in ’08.  In Kansas, Republican Reps. Todd Tiarht and Jerry Moran are both leaving to compete for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Sam Brownback.  Florida’s Rep.  Adam Putnam, elected to the House in 2000 at the minimum constitutional age of 25, recently announced he will depart Congress next year at 35 to run for state commissioner of agriculture.

This list goes on:  Republican Reps. Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Peter King (N.Y.) and Peter Roskam (Ill.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) are all exploring or at least considering Senate races next year.  A number of other GOP House Members may just retire outright, among them Rep. Elton Gallegly (Cal.), Bill Young (Fla.), and Walter Jones (N.C.).

All told, Republicans may very well be forced to play a major game of defense for the 178-seats they now hold in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“It seems a lot of Republicans can’t see serving in the majority again in the foreseeable future, so they are opting out,” Bernadette Budde of the Business and Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) told me during a recent breakfast.

But Budde, a seasoned observer of congressional elections since the early 1970s, does not see the possible exodus from the House as limited exclusively to Republicans.  As she put it, “There will be a number of Democrats who leave because they conclude, ‘We’ve won everything, so let’s leave when we’re on top.’”

Father Time could convince a number of seasoned House Democrats to leave next year.  Reps. Dale Kildee (Mich.) and James Oberstar (Minn.) both came to the House in 1976.  Reps. John Spratt (S.C.) and Sandy Levin (Mich.) have been there since ’82.  (Note:  Don’t look for the “grand-daddy” of all House Members to fall in the exit category; Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, who recently became the longest-serving U.S. Representative in history after 55 years in the U.S. House, shows every sign of going on there for years to come.  Noting that his son Chris Dingell has long been mentioned as the heir to John’s seat, one wag predicted: “Chris will be on Social Security before Big John leaves!”)

Other Democrats will try for higher office.  Last week, Rep. Paul Hodes (D.-N.H.) signaled he will run for the seat of Republican Sen. Judd Gregg in 2010.

One year away from the opening of the first mid-term election cycle of the Obama era, there is an excellent change that 2010 will be the year of the largest voluntary exodus from the House since 1992.  At that time, the House Bank scandal and the usual departures the come with redistricting culminated in newly-elected Members comprising one-third of the House.

And now the questions start:  Will Republicans undergo their third straight worst election cycle since the Great Depression?  Or will they rebound enough to make more financial bailouts and stimulus packages out of the question?  Will the Democratic ranks in the House move farther to the left with an influx of younger Members? And will Republicans, with not a single House Member from New England and moderates increasingly succeeded by more conservative Members, become an even more conservative band?  

These, of course, are unanswerable at this time.  As they say in the serials, stay tuned.