Add one more name to the ever-growing list of moderate House GOP retirees.
Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., announced Monday that he will not seek reelection in 2014. In a statement to PoliticsPA.com, which first reported the news, Gerlach said, "It is simply time for me to move on to new challenges and to spend more time with my wife and family."
His decision marks the fourth time this cycle that a moderate House Republican has unexpectedly announced his retirement, a development sure to reinforce perceptions that the House GOP's centrist wing is in steep decline. Reps. Jon Runyan, Tom Latham, and Frank Wolf each already decided against a campaign, opening GOP-held swing seats in New Jersey, Iowa, and Virginia, respectively.
Combined with the Bill Young's death in October, the retirements mean Republicans face open-seat battles in 2014 for five seats among the 30 most Democratic-leaning districts currently held by the GOP—one in a March special election.
That means House Democrats have an opportunity to pick up seats in a year when a difficult political climate and midterm map have them playing defense in most places. Gerlach's suburban Philadelphia district, for instance, was won by Mitt Romney in 2012. But four years earlier, Obama captured 53 percent of the vote there.
Democrats' gain, however, is centrist Republicans' loss. All of the departing members belong to the more moderate, "establishment" wing of the House GOP, according to National Journal's most recent vote ratings. In 2012, Latham was rated the most conservative of that group, and he was only the 164th most conservative member of the House by that measure. (Latham is also known as a close ally of Speaker John Boehner. This chart from The Washington Post shows that the retiring swing-district Republicans were more reliable votes for their leadership than most of their colleagues.)
On the other side of the aisle, retiring Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is the most conservative House Democrat still in Congress, based on those rankings.
Gerlach was one of the few House Republicans left who knew what it meant to face a competitive general election. The former state lawmaker's old, affluent suburban district leaned solidly left—President Obama won it by 17 points in 2008—and Democrats considered him a top target for most of the last decade.
But Gerlach proved resilient, winning four consecutive closely fought elections in which he never garnered more than 52.1 percent of the vote. Democrats came closest in 2006, when Lois Murphy lost by fewer than 4,000 votes.
Redistricting pushed the 6th District to the right: Mitt Romney won it with 51 percent of the vote while Gerlach cruised to his own easy reelection victory. But even then it was still the 19th most Democratic district represented by a Republican, according to the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voting Index.
This article appears in the January 7, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.