Robert Moran | December 16, 2009
They say actions speak louder than words.
Some folks were trying to minimize the announced retirements of Dennis Moore (D-KS), John Tanner (D-TN) and Brian Baird (D-WA). And, to be fair, I thought that these three retirements were not yet indicative of a wave of retirements that typically precede a difficult election.
But, Bart Gordon's retirement now strikes me as the begining of a trend in which seasoned Democrats in swing, purple or red districts head for the exits and higher pay in the private sector.
Dennis Moore (D-KS) has been a perennial target for Republicans, but in the 1990's Bart Gordon (D-TN) (along with Bud Cramer in Alabama) was something more like Moby Dick with Republicans playing the role of Captain Ahab.
One of the reasons he's been able to survive for so long is his prowess at fundraising. Like any smart incumbent, Gordon has always been exceptional at raising money and using it to intimidate challengers.
What does Bart Gordon's district look like?
In 2000, with Al Gore on the balllot (this was Al Gore's old district), Bush edged out Gore 112,096 to 111,872. In 2004, Bush took 60% to Kerry's 40%. So the district is a purplish-red.
But Gordon has won by solid margins in recent years: 2000 (62%), 2002 (66%), 2004 (64%), 2006 (67%) and 2008 (74%).
So why would a longtime, 60 year old incumbent at the top of his game retire?
I'm sure it was a mix of reasons (although "spending more time with family" has become a cliche, there is often something to this, especially among west coast Members with families back in the district), but political animals with good insitincts know when to go out on top.
Typically, and I have seen this firsthand, Members conduct benchmark polling in the winter of an election year, get their re-elect number, look hard at the generic ballot and Presidential job approval in their district and study the awareness levels and favs of the opponent they think they will need to take down in the fall.
If the data paints a grim picture and they are realists and pragmatists, as opposed to idealists and/or self-deceiving egomaniacs, they decide that the rallies and fundraising and rubber chicken dinners and more fundraising just aren't worth it. That's when a nice trade association gig or hot lobby shop starts to look very appealing.
I suspect something like this happened with Bart Gordon.
He has plenty of cash on hand, he has seniority, he has won handily now for years, but the district is not entirely Democrat friendly and the internal polling data must have been awful.
Add Gordon's retirement to those of Moore, Tanner and Baird, and I believe we are seeing the beginning of what will become a wave of retirements in Democratically held districts that went for Bush in 2004.