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House Republicans are retiring in spades ahead of the midterms

And if Democrats play their cards right, they have a real chance of taking back the House.

U.S. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) speaks to the media after White House officials briefed members of the House of Representatives on the situation in North Korea. (CREDIT: Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
U.S. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) speaks to the media after White House officials briefed members of the House of Representatives on the situation in North Korea. (CREDIT: Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

On Monday, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) announced he will not seek reelection this year, and if Democrats play their cards right, the newly-open seat could play a big role in their fight to take back the House.

Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is the latest in a line of Republican retirement announcements, including seven committee chairs. He (along with several of the other retiring chairmen) is term-limited as chair, and said in a statement he wants to spend his last year in the role focusing on “the brutal, corrupt and dangerous regimes in Pyongyang and Tehran, Vladimir Putin’s continued efforts to weaponize information to fracture western democracies, and growing terrorist threats in Africa and Central Asia.”

“With this in mind, and with the support of my wife Marie, I have decided not to seek reelection in November,” Royce said.

In total, 29 House Republicans have announced they will retire at the end of this term, significantly more than is typical, according to Daily Kos Elections, and the Democratic party needs to pick up 24 seats to take back the House. Although Democrats have a number of vulnerable incumbents themselves, several of the Republican retirements — including Reps. Charlie Dent (R-PA), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Dave Reichert (R-WA), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) — are boons for Democrats chances to pick up seats, especially in what is shaping up to be a potential wave year for Democrats.

As one unnamed senior House Republican told Politico, “It feels like 2006.” (In 2006, Democrats took 31 seats, winning the majority in the chamber and installing current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as Speaker.)

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And that unnamed senior House Republican appears to be right. Though no retiring Republican has said outright, there is a sense in Washington, D.C. that many House Republicans simply want nothing to do with the upcoming midterms. As Sean McElwee recently noted at The Outline, a majority of both college educated and non-college educated white people — voting blocks Democrats have been trying to court in recent months — support progressive economic policies, including a millionaires tax, more banking regulations, and increased health care spending.

The recent elections in Virginia could also spell trouble for the GOP. Republicans were expected to comfortably keep their 16-seat majority in the state’s House of Delegates, but Democrats overcame aggressive partisan gerrymandering to cut that majority to a single seat. (Notably, one seat in the House was ultimately determined by the drawing of lots — which the Republican candidate won — because of an exact tie in votes.) The strong showing in the House of Delegates is good news for Democrats, as the House of Delegates races function similar to a real-life generic ballot.

Royce in particular is likely feeling the heat. In 2012, Mitt Romney won his Southern California district with 51 percent of the vote in 2012. In 2016, President Trump lost the district by 8 points, garnering just 43 percent of the vote — and Democrats are feeling confident.

“Facing strong, well-funded Democratic challengers, a historic investment in Orange County by the DCCC, and a failed Republican agenda of raising taxes on working families and trying to rip healthcare away from millions of Californians, Congressman Ed Royce’s retirement is another sign of Democrats’ growing momentum in 2018,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spokesperson Drew Godinich said in a statement after Royce’s announcement. “In a district that Hillary Clinton won by eight points, Democrats are poised to win this Orange County seat and send someone to Washington who truly represents the values of Southern California.”

But the litany of well-funded Democratic challengers could come back to bite the party. Five Democrats have already jumped into the race to replace Royce, and under California’s primary system, known as the “jungle primary system,” the top two vote-getters will go on to the general election, regardless of party. If a leader doesn’t emerge from the Democratic pack, the left-leaning vote could fracture, leaving two Republicans to fight it out in the general and Democrats without one of their most likely pick-ups.