Democratic Rep. Bill Owens announced Tuesday that he won’t seek reelection in 2014, the latest in a string of recent retirements by House moderates. His decision will will leave Democrats defending a vulnerable House seat in upstate New York this fall.Owens, who is serving just his second full term after coming to Congress via a special election in 2009, said in a statement: “After careful thought and consideration, I have decided not to seek reelection for the 21st Congressional District this November…. It is time for me to undertake new endeavors and spend more time with my family.”
But the “related news” section of Owens’s website, below his retirement announcement, might be more telling. The next news release listed is titled, “Owens Frustrated With Stalled Farm Bill Negotiations.” A handful of other moderates from both parties have also announced retirements in the past few months, with many citing congressional gridlock as part of their impetus for getting out of the legislating game. According to National Journal‘s 2012 vote ratings, Owens was the 10th-most conservative Democrat from that year still in the House. Two other conservative Democrats (Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina) have already announced their retirements, making their seats likely Republican pickups in the 2014 elections.
Owens was also facing a tough reelection in a battleground district, with Republicans touting former Bush official Elise Stefanik as one of their stronger recruits this cycle. President Obama carried the 21st District with 52 percent of the area’s votes in both 2008 and 2012, but it was a longtime Republican seat, represented by current Secretary of the Army John McHugh, before Owens captured it in 2009. Both that year and in 2010, Owens won despite getting only 48 percent of the vote, thanks to third-party candidacies splitting the vote.
A slate of moderate Republicans, including Reps. Jon Runyan of New Jersey, Tom Latham of Iowa, Frank Wolf of Virginia, and Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania, will also retire in 2014, sparking competitive election races.
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