With a presidential election on the docket in 2024, much of the political spotlight right now is shining on the race for the White House. But all over the country, there will also be a bevy of critical down-ballot contests, including all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans took control of the chamber in the 2022 midterms, but hold only a 222-to-213 edge over the Democrats, meaning that Democrats would only need to flip five Republican-held seats to recapture the House.
Given how thin the margin is, we’re closely watching which House seats might become open due to the officeholder’s retirement or decision to seek another office. Despite a weaker incumbency advantage in recent elections, parties still tend to be more vulnerable to losing control of competitive seats if they aren’t fielding incumbents to defend them. Additionally, a disproportionate number of retirements by one party — especially “pure retirements,” when politicians decide to leave office without seeking another one — can sometimes signal a belief among that party’s officeholders that the coming election will go poorly for them.
If you’ve made it this far in the hopes of seeing which way the political winds are blowing, well, sorry. So far this cycle, House departures haven’t revealed much of anything about how things might go next November. Just two representatives have announced they won’t run for reelection or another office — one from each party — while 10 House members are running for the Senate instead of seeking reelection. With 12 overall exits as we reach the end of July, the 2024 cycle ranks in the lower half of election cycles over the past two decades when it comes to the number of announced House departures at this point in time.
|Cycle||Seeking other||Pure retirement||Seeking other||Pure retirement||Total departures|
With just two pure retirements — second-term GOP Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana surprisingly said in February she wouldn’t run again in her solidly Republican district, while 86-year old Democratic Rep. Grace Napolitano announced in early July that she wouldn’t seek a 14th term in her safely blue seat — the 2024 cycle has the fewest at this point since the 2014 cycle, so it’s a touch surprising that we haven’t had more. This is especially true because earlier retirements can give quality candidates more time to raise the money they need to compete, which is particularly critical in competitive seats. Nevertheless, it’s probably too early to get a read on the electoral landscape based on pure retirements: Back in the 2010 cycle, for instance, no Democrats had announced they were leaving office for good at the end of July, yet the environment deteriorated so much for Democrats that they ended up losing 63 seats.
Meanwhile, seven House members’ Senate runs this year rested mostly on the chance that a Senate seat happened to come open in their home states. The only open Senate seat likely to be competitive in November 2024 is in Michigan, where Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s retirement led Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin to toss her hat into the ring. In California, Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff each aim to succeed longtime Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Similarly, Democratic Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware and David Trone of Maryland are running for solidly Democratic seats following the retirements of Sens. Tom Carper and Ben Cardin, respectively. And in firmly red Indiana, GOP Rep. Jim Banks jumped into the Senate race after Sen. Mike Braun announced he would run for governor.
But three other House members are running for the Senate in competitive seats held by incumbents from a different party. Republican Rep. Alex Mooney of West Virginia announced just after the 2022 midterms that he would seek the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who has not yet announced if he intends to defend his deep-red seat in the Mountain State. In Arizona, Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego has announced a run against Democratic-turned-independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who like Manchin hasn’t publicly stated her reelection plans. And in Texas, Democratic Rep. Colin Allred entered the race to take on Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
Across all 12 departures, just three involve competitive districts, so this group of open seats won’t necessarily prove decisive in 2024. However, each of those three seats is held by a Democrat, providing Republicans with some takeover opportunities that could aid their efforts to preserve their slim majority. Most notably, Slotkin is leaving behind Michigan’s 7th District, where President Biden and former President Donald Trump ran almost even in 2020, based on Daily Kos Elections’s calculations. The other two seats lean Democratic, but could still be in play. Porter’s district, California’s 47th, went for Biden by 11 percentage points, but it’s more Republican down-ballot: Even as Porter won reelection by 3.4 points in 2022, the Republican nominee for governor carried the same turf by 0.6 percentage points. As for Maryland’s 6th, which Trone is walking away from, it went for Biden by 10 points.
Still, with such an evenly divided House and the prospect of another competitive 2024 presidential election, the lower chamber seems very much up for grabs, so members pondering retirement have reason to wait to see if the political winds start to blow more strongly in one direction before making any choices. For instance, were Biden’s already poor job approval rating to significantly dip below 40 percent in late 2023 or early 2024, some Democrats might reconsider their campaigns. Conversely, a few Republican members may rethink their futures early next year if unpopular former President Donald Trump looks set to win the GOP presidential nomination. Then again, that potential rematch of the 2020 election might be a race to the bottom that both parties feel could work out to their advantage.
Additionally, despite just coming off of a redistricting cycle ahead of the 2022 midterms, redistricting could once again throw a wrench into reelection plans. Alabama just passed a new congressional map after a federal court order, but if the court decides that new map insufficiently addresses its concerns and draws its own map with two clearly Democratic-leaning seats, that could prompt one of the affected GOP incumbents to retire. Louisiana Republicans may face the same question if a federal court decision requires the state to draw a new map with another Democratic-leaning seat. Conversely, North Carolina Republicans look likely to draw a new map that reddens seats currently held by Democrats. Potential redistricting activity in New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin could also lead to House departures among affected incumbents.
We’re quite a ways from knowing what the contours of the electoral environment will look like in 2024, and besides a host of House members running for open or competitive Senate seats, most are keeping their powder dry as they wait to see how things unfold. Still, as more retirements begin to mount, they may reveal what people on Capitol Hill think — rightly or wrongly — about their parties’ chances in 2024.