Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, became the third moderate congressman Wednesday to announce he won’t seek reelection in 2014. Now, three districts where the incumbent was favored to win are up for grabs.
"It is never a perfect time or a right time to step aside," Latham said in a statement. "But for me, this is the time. I want to share with you my decision that I will not be a candidate for any office in November of 2014."
For moderates in Congress, Tuesday seemed to be a day to walk away from the job. Latham’s announcement followed that of Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, who has been identified as the Democrat most likely to stray from his party line.
With bitter partisan infighting in 2013 including a government shutdown, an unfinished farm bill and a lack of momentum on immigration reform, observers say it is not surprising members of congress are stepping aside. Yet, the retirements could mean a major 2014 shake-up in the vacated districts.
Latham has represented Iowa in Congress since 1995 when he was elected as part of House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s 1995 “Republican revolution” that allowed the GOP to capture the House for the first time in four decades. His close relationship with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has led to a series of speculations on whether his retirement might signal the end of Boehner’s tenure as speaker as well.
More broadly, the retirements may make for an even more partisan Congress. Representing swing districts, all three of the lawmakers who retired Tuesday often voted against their party lines in Washington in order to appease constituents back home. Matheson, who had been slated to run against GOP firebrand and former Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love in a district GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney carried in 2012 with 67 percent of the vote, had run far to the right of the Democrats and even some Republicans in Congress. Matheson voted against the increase in the debt ceiling and voted to delay the Affordable Care Act as part of a temporary funding bill this fall. Latham, meanwhile, who represented a district Obama won by more than 4 points in 2012, also had sided with moderates and sometimes joined Democrats to get legislation passed through the gridlocked House.
The retirements will certainly mix up the 2014 congressional landscape. In Utah, Love is on track to become the Republican Party’s first female African-American lawmaker in Congress. With Wolf out of the picture, Democrats may be able to finally win his northern Virginia district after 34 years. His district, which once was a rural community outside of Washington, D.C., has been transformed in recent years to a bustling suburb packed full of D.C. lobbyists, government workers and defense contractors.The Democrats’ leading challenger is Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust, who announced his campaign last week.
Even in Iowa, Democrats have their eye on taking Latham’s district, which has flipped from likely Republican to toss-up, according to the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Congressional election experts note that Democrats picked up two opportunities Tuesday while Republicans just gained one, but in an off-year election, the president’s party typically stumbles.
“The two Republican retirements... give Democrats more than a fighting chance in two closely contested districts that are probably necessary pieces of any future Democratic House majority,” Kyle Kondik, a congressional expert at the University of Virginia, wrote in his analysis of the evolving landscape. “It’d be tempting to call the day a victory for Democrats, but we see it more as a draw.”