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The (Continuing) Congressional Retirement Flood


— As the calendar year draws nearer to a close, more House members have looked towards the exit.

— In Michigan, Rep. Dan Kildee (D, MI-8) would have been favored for a seventh term, but without him, his Biden +2 seat moves into the Toss-up category.

— On Long Island, the saga of Rep. George Santos (R, NY-3) may soon be ending, as an expulsion vote looms.

— Santos already announced he’d forgo reelection and, despite representing a district that would be favorable to Democrats on paper, we are holding the race to replace him in the Toss-up category.

Table 1: Crystal Ball House rating change

Member/District Old Rating New Rating
MI-8 Open (Kildee, D) Leans Democratic Toss-up

More seats opening up

As we were about to head into Thanksgiving week, we wrote about what we called the congressional “retirement flood.” Even before the holiday season got into full swing, several members, from both sides, were announcing their retirements at a notable clip. Well, more retirements have come since, so we’ll take a moment to catch up to where things stand.

On the Democratic side, the most significant news came out of Michigan. Rep. Dan Kildee (D, MI-8) is stepping aside in a marginal Biden-won seat. To get to office in 2012, the incumbent succeeded his long-serving uncle, Dale Kildee, in a Flint-based seat. With that, 2025 will likely be the first year in nearly five decades that the Flint area is not represented by a Kildee.

Moving west across the Great Lakes region, three-term Rep. Dean Phillips (D, MN-3) announced he’d forgo reelection in favor of pursuing his longshot presidential primary run against President Biden. Phillips, a wealthy businessman, was elected in the 2018 wave as a first-time candidate. Minnesota’s 3rd District is a crescent-shaped district that takes in most of Minneapolis’s western suburbs. With its upscale character, the district voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but reelected veteran Republican Erik Paulsen. Paulsen’s loss to Phillips came in what was a realigning cycle in Minnesota overall — as MN-3 flipped to its presidential party in 2018, Democrats lost two Donald Trump-won open seats on either end of Greater Minnesota (District 1 in the south and 8 in the north) despite the overall blue hue of the cycle.

In any case, even though both have voted Democratic in recent elections, MI-8 and MN-3 have been steadily moving in opposite directions over the last decade or so. Table 2 considers how the two districts broke in recent statewide races.

Table 2: MI-8 and MN-3 in statewide races since 2012

MI-8 began the decade as a double-digit Barack Obama seat and very narrowly stuck with Clinton in 2016. Although Biden improved slightly in 2020, his 2-point win there placed MI-8 right of Michigan as a whole (Biden carried the state by closer to 3 points). The Kildee family’s homebase of Genesee County (which contains Flint and a majority of the district’s population) exemplifies this movement: after going for Obama by nearly 30 points, Clinton and Biden won it by just nine points. MN-3, which is almost entirely contained within Minneapolis’s Hennepin County, started out as a seat that gave Obama only a bare majority. The district shifted markedly to Clinton in 2016, helping her carry the state despite major erosion in outstate areas from previous Democratic performance. In 2020, there was more blue movement, with Biden nearly doubling Clinton’s margin.

While the bottom numbers on Table 2 may not be as relevant in a presidential year, we still thought the gubernatorial numbers offered a good illustration of how the down-ballot tendencies of the districts have changed. In 2014, neither backed the winning major-party nominees in their states: then-Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) lost MI-8 by a dozen points while Gov. Mark Dayton (D-MN) narrowly missed MN-3 (both governors won statewide by mid-single-digits). In 2018, current Govs. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) and Tim Walz (D-MN) each took 55% in the districts. But Walz continued to expand his MN-3 margin in 2022 while Whitmer simultaneously lost a little ground in MI-8.

With these trends in mind, we don’t expect Democrats to have any problem holding onto Minnesota’s 3rd. In fact, before Phillips even announced his plans, state Sen. Kelly Morrison and Democratic National Committee member Ron Harris were credible candidates that were in the mix, although now that the seat is truly open, more local Democrats may seriously consider the race.

But without a proven incumbent in MI-8, we are moving MI-8 from Leans Democratic to Toss-up. Earlier this week, state Board of Education President Pamela Pugh (D) dropped out of the open-seat Senate race and announced a House run there. Republicans have two candidates running: Martin Blank and Paul Junge (although the primary fields on both sides could expand). Junge was the GOP’s 2022 nominee against Kildee, and he previously lost a 2020 race to Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D, MI-7) in an adjacent seat. Slotkin is running for Senate and leaves open a competitive Lansing-based seat. So between MI-7 and MI-8, central Michigan will be one area we’ll be watching with particular interest next year.

Other recent Democratic retirements have popped up in California. In the Bay Area, 16-term Rep. Anna Eshoo (D, CA-16) is retiring, as is six-term Rep. Tony Cardenas (D, CA-29), in the Los Angeles metro. Republicans are not much of a factor in either seat — in fact, under California’s open primary system, both incumbents have had general election opposition from fellow Democrats in recent cycles.

On the Republican side, GOP Rep. Bill Johnson, who flipped an Ohio district in the 2010 red wave, accepted a job leading Youngstown State University, although he will remain in the House into next year. From a purely psephological perspective, Johnson’s announcement would have mattered more in the pre-Trump era. OH-6 includes Youngstown proper and follows the Ohio River southward to include a string of Appalachian counties. In the 2012 election, it matched Ohio overall, giving Obama a 51%-48% win. But in the years since, it has shifted red faster than Ohio as a whole: Clinton and Biden only took about 35% in the district. In 2018, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) lost the current OH-6 51%-49%, and if he wins reelection next year, he almost certainly would do so without the district.

If Johnson, over his relatively long tenure in the House, has been one of its lower-key Republicans, one of the chamber’s loudest members, who has served for less than a year, is New York’s George Santos. What is clear at this point is that Santos will not be in the next Congress: two weeks ago, he announced that he would not seek reelection.

Going into this week, the question was whether Santos will go voluntarily or not. A damning report from the House Ethics Committee released earlier this month led to renewed efforts to expel Santos from Congress — before that report, it was widely known that Santos fabricated virtually everything about himself during last year’s campaign.

As of this writing, Santos has ruled out voluntarily resigning and it seems likelier than not that his expulsion is imminent. If Santos leaves Congress before his term is up, it would set up a special election. This would give Republicans a shot at the seat without the weight of a presidential-level electorate, although the specter of Santos would probably be fresh in voters’ minds under the compressed timeframe of a special election (which would likely be held early next year).

In 2020, Biden would have carried Santos’s NY-3 by a 53%-45% margin. But even as Democrats have held their own in down-ballot races since then, Long Island has remained an exception. New York, at least at the statewide and House level last year, was a disappointment for Democrats. It is not clear that some of the factors that hampered them last year, such as intra-party conflicts and a perception that the party has not done enough to address crime, have dissipated.

The race to replace Santos was already shaping up as a crowded contest. On the Democratic side, the early frontrunners seem to be former state Sen. Anna Kaplan and former Rep. Tom Suozzi, who held the seat before Santos. Though Suozzi held down the district for three terms, rank-and-file Democrats seem less than enthused about his candidacy. One reason could be that Suozzi was not seen as a “team player” in 2022 — he left his marginal seat open to get 13% against Gov. Kathy Hochul in a statewide primary. As Hochul struggled against then-Rep. Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) on Long Island, Kaplan lost in a northern Nassau County seat to now-state Sen. Jack Martins (R). Martins himself lost to Suozzi in 2016 and could be a contender for the U.S. House seat in a special election.

The GOP field in the district is approaching double digits. One of the earliest Santos challengers to emerge was Air Force veteran Kellen Curry, who has been fundraising since April. Another serious name on the Republican side is Mike Sapraicone, a retired police officer who got a notable local endorsement from former Sen. Al D’Amato (R-NY).

Given Democrats’ resilience in special and down-ballot elections since last summer, we would be liable to start off an open Biden +8 seat in most places as Leans Democratic. But in New York, we’re going to hold our rating for NY-3 as a Toss-up. While the stench of Santos may be too much for the eventual GOP nominee to overcome, local Republicans can point to some notable recent success during the Biden administration.

One thing that could end up culling the primary fields is that if there is a special election, party leaders would select the nominees in lieu of a primary. Suozzi would be the obvious Democratic choice as the former incumbent; the Republican side is less clear.

Something we are also watching here is how redistricting plays out in New York. In 2022, the state’s highest court struck down a Democratic-drawn gerrymander. Importantly, instead of giving Democratic legislators a second bite at the (big) apple, the court drew its own map. With membership changed on the court, Democrats are now hoping they will receive a more favorable ruling. This is where it could be better for Republicans if there is a special election than if Santos stuck around in Congress, If Democrats are successful in the legal challenge, they could make NY-3 a few notches bluer for the 2024 general election. But a 2024 special election in the district would be held under the current lines — if Republicans win that, they would at least have incumbency going into the fall campaign.

There will almost certainly be more retirements coming next month. In a closely-divided chamber, it will matter whether those retirements come in swing districts, like those of Kildee and Santos, or not-so-swingy-anymore seats, like those of Phillips and Johnson. As of now, Democrats are the ones with more work to do in holding competitive open seats — we rate open seats CA-47, MI-7, and MI-8 as Toss-ups and VA-7 as Leans Democratic. As of now, the only open Republican seat rated in the Toss-up or Leans Republican categories is NY-3, and it’s not like Santos is a strong incumbent whose departure (however it comes) hurts GOP chances in his district.