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‘Gold Watch’ Watch: Any Retirees on the Horizon?

As Forrest Gump’s mother might have said, Congressional retirees are like a box of chocolates. When poring over their fundraising disclosures, you never know what you’re going to get.

A Member sitting on $2 million in the bank could choose to retire at the last minute, despite the financial safety cushion, whereas one who did no fundraising in the prior three months may just assume he doesn’t need to get serious about donations until later in the cycle. And the veteran who has been spending like a drunken sailor even when he’s taking in little money may have sound political reasons for doing so.

Of 28 potential House retirees whose financial activity was examined by Roll Call, a few things can be said:

• All are heavily favored for re-election right now.

• Few have attracted declared challengers, and even fewer represent districts that are in the remotest danger of switching party representation, regardless of whether the incumbent chooses to seek re-election.

• Consequently, if any of these Members face any kind of political peril in the future, it would likely be from a well-funded, younger challenger in a party primary rather than in a general election.

As things stand, most of these Members probably do plan to run again. If they were planning to retire, they probably would have said so already.

Still, there are always a few late surprises in any election cycle, and whatever surprises may be ahead are as likely to come from this group as from any other House Member.

So what do the numbers reveal?

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) raised less money in the past three months than any other incumbent mentioned as a possible retiree except for Colorado Republican Rep. Joel Hefley [see related story]. Boehlert took in just $19,000, though he retained $166,000 in cash on hand at the end of September.

Boehlert, who is facing his third consecutive Republican primary challenge from the right, did host one of his regular baseball-themed fundraisers on Capitol Hill earlier this month. His GOP primary foe, former Seneca Falls Mayor Brad Jones, does not appear to have begun fundraising yet, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Boehlert’s district in central New York state is becoming more competitive, and there could be a close race in both primaries as well as in the general election when he is ready to retire.

Next on the list of low fundraisers is Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), who raised $23,000 from July 1 to Sept. 30 but banked a healthy $329,000. Because he was forced by term limits to give up the gavel at the House Appropriations Committee at the end of 2004, there was some speculation that the 74-year-old Congressman would not run again, but so far he still seems eager to serve. Young’s Gulf Coast district will almost certainly be the site of a fight between both parties whenever he moves on.

On the other end of the spectrum, Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.), who is occasionally mentioned as a possible retiree despite being just 48 years old, took in a robust $292,000 during the past three months, good for $529,000 in the bank. That should quiet the retirement talk.

There remains some speculation about the second most aggressive fundraiser in this group of potential retirees: House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). Thomas, who will be forced to give up his chairmanship at the end of 2006, collected $276,000 and had $278,000 in the bank. He is already thought to be grooming a successor: California state Assembly Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R), a former Thomas aide. McCarthy would likely face a Republican primary challenge from another ex-Thomas aide who has broken from his former boss, state Sen. Roy Ashburn (R). (Ashburn ran against now-Democratic Rep. Jim Costa in 2004.)

Among the other notable facts:

• Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) — whose health problems, and those of her husband, have prompted retirement speculation over the past few election cycles — had less money in the bank than any other Member on the Roll Call watch list. She had $79,000 on hand.

• Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who is occasionally mentioned as a possible retiree because he will have to give up the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee gavel next year, had the most, at $2.5 million.