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What does Bart Gordon's (D-TN6) retirement tell us?


They say actions speak louder than words.

If this is true, then Democratic Representative Bart Gordon's recently announced retirement is the equivalent of a loudspeaker.

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.


 

Comments
Farleftandproud:

They have no sense of loyalty and would like to do anything to help their opponents out. Democrats are self destructing now and it is just an example that history will never teach people anything.

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Alan Abramowitz:

This is ridiculous. One retirement does not a trend make. Nor do four retirements a trend make. Right now there are 12 open R seats vs. 11 open D seats. Not exactly a clear trend. And both parties have about equal numbers of vulnerable seats left open by retirements. And in the Senate there are 6 open R seats vs. 2 open D seats. Again, no trend. Last but not least--open seats by themselves are not a good predictor of election results.

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LordMike:

At this time in 2007, 14 republicans were retiring. Compare that to 4 today.

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Alan Abramowitz:

It's not 4, it's 12.

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Farleftandproud:

There may be some Republicans retiring before the next election. I think that if Democrats can regain momentum and get historic health care legislation passed they will lose minimal seats in 2010. As far as I am concerned I think the DNC shouldn't help re-elect the conservadems if they vote in the final bill against health care reform. I would rather lose conservadems from Republican districts, and focus more on better financing progressive candidates in districts in heavily suburban areas and states where Social conservatism is looked down upon. I would protect the Dems in states like NH, Maine, CT, and perhaps win a couple of seats in California, Arizona and South Florida; areas where there has been a growing latino population.

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Farleftandproud:

Democrats, however made dumb decisions about retirements. In 2004, Bob Graham, FL, Sen. Breaux, from Louisiana, and John Edwards from NC all didn't run for re-election. (Perhaps he would have gotten involved in scandal but not at the expense of electing a Republican to the Senate). That was ill advised. Democrats did crappy that election. I honestly believed our country was no longer a democracy and this fetish with the false sense of patriotism and mission accomplished was not going to end well at all.

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Jerry Skurnik:

If Bart Gordon's retirement helps the GOP as much as the other perennial target - Bud Cramer, then the Dems don't have much to worry about. The Dems kept the seat after Cramer finally quit.

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