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After Marchant retirement, race for Texas’ 24th District remains competitive

With Trump atop the 2020 ticket, GOP can’t feel comfortable about attracting suburban voters

An ethics complaint has been filed against Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas (CQ Roll Call)
An ethics complaint has been filed against Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas (CQ Roll Call)

Another day, another Republican retirement.

It might seem like there’s a flood of members announcing they will not seek reelection, but we’re still not close to historical levels. And the location of the open seats matters more than the timing.

It’s remarkable that Rep. Kenny Marchant is the fourth Texas Republican in less than two weeks to opt against another term. And it’s remarkable that nine of the 11 retiring House members thus far this cycle are Republicans, especially since Democrats outnumber them in Congress.

But we’re still at less than half of the historical average for retirements. Going back to 1976, an average of 23 House members have neither sought reelection nor another office each cycle. So despite the flurry of recent activity, there will be more retirement announcements to come.

Where those retirements happen continues to be the question. The consequences of Marchant’s announcement are similar to the fallout from fellow Texas Rep. Pete Olson’s decision.

The races for both Olson’s 22nd District and Marchant’s 24th District were rated as competitive before the incumbents announced their retirements, so there is no change in the number of vulnerable GOP seats. The contest in Texas’ 23rd District had also been rated as competitive, but Republican incumbent Will Hurd’s retirement puts his party in a tough spot, given his unique appeal as someone who could assemble a winning coalition in a majority-minority district. So that race rating changed from Toss-up to Leans Democratic. Republican K. Michael Conaway is not seeking reelection in Texas’ 11th District, and the race to replace him remains Solid Republican for now.

Similar to other districts and states around the country, your view of the competitiveness of Marchant’s Dallas-Fort Worth-area district depends on whether you think the 2016 and 2018 election results were the new foundation for Democratic performance, or a high-water mark.

On one hand, you might think President Donald Trump carried the 24th District by “just” 6 points in 2016, a narrow margin that foreshadows vulnerability for the GOP. On the other hand, you could believe that, in spite of all his negatives, including the infamous Access Hollywood tape, Trump “still” carried the district by 6 points, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections, proof that Republicans have a fundamental advantage even with a flawed candidate.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried the seat by more than 3 points in the 2018 Senate race, according to Inside Elections contributing analyst Ryan Matsumoto. But O’Rourke also spent $80 million statewide to do it, and ran  against a polarizing Republican incumbent, Sen. Ted Cruz.

Republican candidates also carried the 24th District in six of the other seven statewide races last fall, even though 2018 was a great year for Democrats nationally.

In short, the 2020 election results will give us a larger sample size to judge the results of the last two cycles.

Marchant had a close race in 2018 — he won by 3 points — but it’s possible Republicans will find a candidate who will be a fresher face and run a better campaign.

The 24th District race remains competitive, and Republicans certainly can’t feel comfortable about GOP performance in the suburbs with Trump anywhere near the ballot. But we’re maintaining our Leans Republican rating as the fields of candidates and the national political environment start to take shape.

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