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How recent House retirements change the battleground in Texas and Michigan

More members will follow Olson and Mitchell and forego 2020 if historical trends hold

Texas Rep. Pete Olson of Texas will not run for another term in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Texas Rep. Pete Olson of Texas will not run for another term in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republican Reps. Pete Olson of Texas and Paul Mitchell of Michigan recently announced they will not seek reelection, but how much do their decisions affect the fight for the House majority? Open seats are usually more vulnerable than districts where an incumbent is seeking another term, but these two retirements aren’t political earthquakes.

First, we are still well below the historical average for retirements, so there will be plenty more of these stories to come.

Going back to 1976, an average of 23 House members have not sought reelection or another office each cycle. So far this year, just seven have made that announcement. That includes Olson and Mitchell, but also Utah’s Rob Bishop, who is reconsidering his decision, and Indiana’s Susan W. Brooks, who is leading recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee. That means more retirements will come and competitive open seats could change the fight for the majority.

Olson’s decision doesn’t alter the landscape all that much.

His announcement shouldn’t have been a complete surprise. There had been speculation about a potential Olson retirement since at least January, since he might have faced competitive primary and general elections with the final reward of being in the minority and seeing his seat carved up in the next round of redistricting after the 2020 elections. And the race for Olson’s Houston-area 22nd District was already rated as competitive and is currently one of 30 vulnerable GOP seats across the country. 

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Handicapping and analyzing the performance of the 22nd District depends on which number you want to focus on. For example, in 2016, President Donald Trump received just 52 percent of the vote, but he carried the seat by 8 points against Hillary Clinton.

In 2018, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz received just 50 percent of the vote, but Democrat Beto O’Rourke raised and spent $80 million to get that close. Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni came within 5 points of defeating Olson in 2018 without help from national Democrats, but he also didn’t have to endure negative GOP ads that come with being in a top-tier race.

Some Republicans are confident they can find a candidate who will run a better campaign than Olson. But they can’t ignore the demographic realities of the seat. Republicans represent just six of the 105 House districts where foreign-born residents make up more than 20 percent of the population, according to Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux, including the 22nd District where over a quarter of the population is foreign-born. That’s a clear trend that isn’t working in favor of Republicans.

Indiana similarities

While not as diverse, Indiana’s 5th District feels somewhat similar to Texas’ 22nd. Brooks announced last month she will not seek re-election to the suburban Indianapolis seat. Mitt Romney carried the seat by 17 points in 2012 while Trump won it by 12 points four years later. But Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly carried the 5th in 2018, even while he was losing statewide to Republican Mike Braun. We have that race rated as Likely Republican.

We’ve had the race for Texas’ 22nd rated as Leans Republican since the beginning of the cycle. And even though retirement news is intoxicating for instant analysis on Twitter, that rating is a fine placeholder for the race as the GOP field and electoral cycle develops.

If Republicans are losing districts Trump won by 8 points in 2016, we’ll be moving a lot more races than the one for Olson’s seat in Texas.

The fallout from Mitchell’s announcement in Michigan earlier in the week is a little easier to analyze.

Trump carried his 10th District 64 percent to 32 percent in 2016. Michigan voters swept out Republicans from statewide offices last fall, yet GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette carried the 10th with 57 percent and Senate nominee John James took 58 percent here.

We continue to rate the race for Michigan’s 10th District as Solid Republican.

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