The Voters' Message: Stay The Course (11/6/96)
Deja Vu All Over Again: Democratic Retirement Worries
By Stuart Rothenberg
(Nov. 25, 1996) -- For two elections in a row, the Democrats have been their own worst enemy. That's because Democratic problems in House and Senate races have been greatly magnified by the retirement of senior and not-so-senior Democratic incumbents.
While the Republicans have picked up 10 Democratic Senate seats in the past four years, they have defeated only two sitting Democrats seeking another term: Harris Wofford (D-PA) and Jim Sasser (D-TN), both in 1994. Earlier this month, not a single incumbent Democratic senator was defeated, but the Democrats still lost a net of two Senate seats. Similarly, GOP gains in open Democratic House seats offset some of the losses of Republican incumbents.
The Democrats' problem in holding their open seats could once again surface in 1998 if, as some insiders predict, another slew of Democrats decides that retirement is preferable to minority party status.
Bye-Bye Hollings, Glenn, Bumpers, Breaux?
Lists of possible retirees aren't worth the paper -- uh, keyboards -- they are printed -- sorry again, typed -- on. But most insiders agree that South Carolina Democrat Fritz Hollings won't seek another six-year term, giving the Republicans a huge advantage. Hollings, elected initially in 1966, chaired the Senate Commerce Committee until the GOP took over the Senate two years ago, and it is hard to believe that Hollings will seek another term in the small chance that his party will win a Senate majority in 1998 or even 2000.
Hollings, who will turn 76 years of age in 13 months, was re-elected in 1992 by just 50-47% against a grossly underfunded challenger and in a year when a Democrat won the White House. Look for Hollings to call it quits.
Ohio Democrat John Glenn is also likely to leave the Senate when his term ends in two years. Glenn would be 77 years old on Election Day 1998, and Gov. George Voinovich (R) has given plenty of indications that he plans on running for the Senate in two years. Glenn beat Mike Dewine (R) 51-42% four years ago, but it is hard to believe that the former astronaut would want to go through a grueling Senate race in order to return to the Senate as a member of the minority party.
Arkansas veteran Dale Bumpers may not be as likely as Hollings or Glenn to call it quits, but he is sure to be mentioned. First elected in 1974 after serving four years as the state's governor, Bumpers would be 73 in November of 1978. That's not ancient, but not everybody is like Strom Thurmond (R-SC), the recently re-elected senator who apparently won't call it quits.
Bumpers has never had a close Senate race, but he can't have been comforted by Arkansas Republican Tim Hutchinson's Senate victory earlier this month.
But the one potential Democratic retirement that should scare the stuffing out of Democratic strategists is John Breaux (D-LA). Only 52 years old, Breaux is widely regarded as a terrific politician with great instincts. He's made it known that he'd love to be ambassador to France, and his willingness to leave the Senate isn't comforting to Democrats.
If Breaux were to decide against seeking reelection in 1998, his seat could easily go Republican, giving the Republicans a further lock on the South.
There will be plenty of Republicans and Democrats who seek re-election who'll have tough challenges, and a handful of Republican senators could also decide to retire rather than seek another term. But the Democrats will have little or no chance of regaining the Senate if they suffer key retirements, and that looks more likely now than it did before this year's elections.
Copyright © 1997 AllPolitics All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this information is provided to you.