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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

One of the most challenging obstacles to Democrats holding their House of Reps majority and the speakership is, well, quitters. As Chris Cillizza writes in “Here’s why Democrats’ chances of winning in November are slipping” at CNN Politics: “House Democrats are retiring in numbers not seen in decades as a dire political outlook, new district lines and a negative environment at the US Capitol haveother combined into a toxic brew for lawmakers considering their political futures….On Tuesday, New York Rep. Kathleen Rice became the 30th Democrat to announce plans to not seek re-election in 2022. By comparison, only 13 House Republicans are planning to call it quits or seek higher office….”I entered public service 30 years ago and never left,” said Rice of her decision. “I have always believed that holding political office is neither a destiny nor a right. As elected officials, we must give all we have and then know when it is time to allow others to serve.”….The 30 House Democratic retirements are the most for the party since 1992, when a whopping 41(!) Democrats walked away from their seats. If one more House Democrat retires before the election, the 2022 cycle will tie the 1976 and 1978 election cycles as the second most retirements in modern history for the party, with 31. Democrats have already seen more retirements in this cycle than the last two elections combined.”

It’s one thing when a retirement trend is fueled by normal aging or length of service, but quite a different phenomenon when it is not. Although he does not provide any stats regarding the average age or length of service of the retirees, Cillizza does share some telling observations, including: “Amy Walter, the editor of the Cook Political Report, a non-partisan campaign tip sheet, cites three main reasons for the Democratic exodus. First, she told me the national environment; “it’s bad out there for Democrats,” she said. Second, the weight of history; “they all know that it’s hard for party in White House to pick up seats. They can only afford to lose 5. They can do math.” And, finally the “environment” in the Capitol itself; “Talk to any member or staffer and they’ll tell you morale is low. It’s a combination of January 6th, a lack of civility, plus a frustration with a fact that most legislation is leadership driven instead of member driven.”….”I think it’s a direct result of the malaise on Capitol Hill,” said former New York Rep. Steve Israel, who previously ran the party’s House campaign committee. “Most Members decide to retire when they calculate that they might lose their next election. These days people are deciding to retire when they’re confident they will win.” Cillizza adds, “There is a solid — if not perfect — correlation between high retirement levels and House seat losses. In 1992, for example, Republicans netted 10 House seats in the general election, according to Brookings’ Vital Statistics on Congress. In 1978, the Republican gain was 15. In 1976, however, Democrats actually gained a seat despite the 31 retirements from within their ranks….Democrats’ issues are compounded by the fact that Republicans have kept their own retirements very low. If no other House Republican walks away this year, the 13 calling it quits will be the party’s lowest total since 1988.”

At least one of those retirements I can wholeheartedly applaud, that of 10-term House Democrat Tim Ryan, who will retire from his House seat, and is running for the U. S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Rob Portman. Ryan currently reps OH-13, which includes portions of Youngstown, Akron, Lordstown and the Mahoning Valley (aka “Steel Valley”). Democrats have won this district in the last 23 House elections, so prospects for holding it in November, even without Ryan, are good, given a credible Democratic candidate for the House seat. Ryan’s senate bid has been endorsed by Ohio’s other Democratic U.S. Senator, the highly-regarded Sherrod Brown, who also occupied OH-13 back in the day. Ryan does have some primary opposition. But he has to be one of the most appealing Democratic Senate candidates for 2022. A gifted orator with an impressive track record and solid center-left cred with Ohio’s white working-class voters, Ryan provides an important pick-up opportunity for Dems in a state that has been trending red in recent presidential elections. Ryan’s blistering denunciation of the Republicans abdication of democracy and his passionate endorsement of infrastructure investment resonates as the kind of authentic patriotism many voters are hoping to see more of in Democratic candidates. This could be the marquee U.S. Senate race, if Ryan wins the primary and if enough Democratic contributors step up and make sure he has adequate funding to take on the Republican senate nominee, who will be rolling in sticky corporate cash. Democrats urgently need a few more  Senate candidates like Ryan.

“Part of Biden’s dilemma is that reorienting a bureaucracy to promote competition takes time, and voters want to see inflation — running at a 40-year peak— start dropping now,” AP’s Josh Boak writes. “Voters feel the bite of inflation with every trip they make to the grocery store or the gas station, yet the president is traveling the country to discuss solutions such as competition and new infrastructure that predate the current predicament and would have a much more gradual impact….America’s current inflation woes stem from the pandemic. Supply chains for computer chips, clothes, furniture and other goods are under stress. At the same time, consumer demand has surged after a historical amount of government aid flowed into the economy. Despite efforts to get the kinks out of the supply chain, price increases have stayed high in recent months instead of fading as many initial forecasts suggested. That has the Federal Reserve ready to increase interest rates to lower inflation.” However, “in a January survey by the University of Chicago, two-thirds of leading economists said that the concentrated power of companies does not explain the current rash of inflation.” Yet, “Corporate profits after tax equaled 11.8% of the total U.S. economy in the second quarter of last year, the highest share on record going back to 1947. The Biden administration is arguing that government policy can ensure that more of that money goes to workers and customers.” At Axios, Hans Nichols and Joanathan Swan note that “Last week, the White House unveiled a three-pronged plan to fight inflation: fixing supply chains and the country’s infrastructure, lowering health and child care costs and promoting competition to benefit consumers.”

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