Pa.’s Gerlach Is the Latest House GOP Moderate to Head for the Exits

Incumbents are not running in five of the 30 most Democratic GOP-held districts.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Clockwise from upper left, U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA) and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) wait for the beginning of a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee June 27, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Acting Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Danny Werfel testified during the hearing on the IRS review of taxpayer targeting practices.
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Scott Bland and Alex Roarty
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Scott Bland and Alex Roarty
Jan. 6, 2014, 9:46 a.m.

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.

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