Exodus of House Moderates Continues With Latest Democratic Retirement

New Yorker Bill Owens’s departure gives Republicans a strong pickup opportunity.

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. Rep. Bill Owens (D-NY) (L) speaks to the media as (2nd L to R) Owens' granddaughter Caroline Antonipillai, wife Jane and daughter Jenna look on during a mock swearing in November 6, 2009 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Owens won the special election for seat that was vacated by John McHugh.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Bill Owens;Jane Owens;Jenna Owens;Caroline Antonipillai
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Scott Bland
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Scott Bland
Jan. 14, 2014, 7:47 a.m.

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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