Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 5, 2010

AND THEN THERE WERE 36.... It's May, and plenty of congressional primary races are already behind us, so it looked like we may not hear any additional retirement announcements this cycle. At least, that's what the major parties' campaign committees were hoping.

It's why the DCCC was no doubt deeply disappointed to hear about the 36th House incumbent to step down at the end of the year.

Representative David Obey of Wisconsin, chairman of the Appropriations Committee and one of the most powerful and longest-serving Democrats in Congress, announced today that he will not seek re-election and will step down after 41 years.

"There is a time to stay and a time to go. And this is my time to go," Mr. Obey told reporters and colleagues cramming into the hearing room of the House Appropriations Committee, the panel he has led since January 2007. "I hate to do it. There is so much that needs to be done, but, frankly, I'm bone tired."

Mr. Obey was bracing for what could have been one of his most competitive re-election contests since first being elected to Congress in 1969.

The congressman insists he wasn't afraid. "I've won 25 elections. Does anybody really think I don't know how to win another one?" Obey said, eliciting, a wave of applause. "Or, for that matter, has anybody ever seen me walk away from a fight in my life?"

Nevertheless, the fact remains that while his party hoped he'd seek another term, Obey is walking away -- and waited until May to make the announcement, forcing Wisconsin Dems to scramble.

Obey had already raised about $1.4 million for his re-election bid, and had hired campaign staff. The leading Republican is Sean Duffy, a district attorney and former reality-television-show personality, who's raised $500,000 and become one of this year's Republican Party darlings.

It's a district that should lean the Democrats' way -- President Obama won the district by 14 points -- but thanks to Obey's late announcement, Republicans have a big head start, and sound confident about their chances. As for the Dems, three state lawmakers -- senators Pat Kreitlow and Julie Lassa, and representative Donna Seidel -- are reportedly in the mix to succeed Obey.

As of today, Obey is the 17th House Democrat to retire this cycle. There are, meanwhile, 19 House Republicans retiring (20 if you count Florida's Mario Diaz-Balart, who is retiring from one House seat to run for another).

Dems didn't want to see any more retirements this year, but given Obey's influence and the competitive nature of his district, this one hurts a little more than most.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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Posted by: stream on May 5, 2010 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

John Nichols has a good piece on david obey @ The Nation...and also sez the Repugnants might have even more trouble agst a new WI Dim candidate for Obey's seat.

Posted by: neill on May 5, 2010 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

[...] given Obey's influence and the competitive nature of his district, this one hurts a little more than most. -- Steve Benen

Given all I've heard about Obey, this one hurts more than most because he's one of the good guys, of whom we have all too few. Stupak retires, I don't shed a tear; Obey's different.

Posted by: exlibra on May 5, 2010 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP has more retirements than the Dems, but the GOP has more "good" retirements, as in people in safe GOP seats retiring in what looks to be a GOP year. The Dems have the opposite problem. Seats like Gordon's and Tanner's were going to be difficult to hold without a liked and trusted incumbent. This is why I think Pennsylvania Dems would be crazy to dump Arlen Specter now, as only he would have the incumbency advantage that's generally worth a good couple of points in a general election. Why take the chance?

Ultimately, what this shows is that Republicans want to fight while a lot of Democrats really don't. In the long run, losing these folks will have to make the Dems better off. Better to drop the deadweight that doesn't want to fight, even if it causes some short term pain.

I discuss this stuff here: http://levsarea.blogspot.com/2010/05/retiring-democrats.html

Posted by: Lev on May 5, 2010 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

Beg to differ in PA. Both Sestak and Specter are underdogs vs. Toomey.

Specter is a party switchin' go along get along good ol' boy, with support from the White House, the Governor's office, and everybody in between.

While Sestak is an actual Democrat, with a long career in the Navy, instead of the smoke filled back rooms that Specter has haunted for half a century.

Posted by: DAY on May 5, 2010 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

In 1971 when I was a mere lad of 11, my family moved to Obey's district (Rhinelander, Home of the Hodag!), and I've always considered him "my" Congressman, no matter where I lived. He never, in all those years, gave me any reason to lose faith in him. I'm actually surprised he's lasted this long up there - I would imagine the area trends fairly conservative these days. It'll be tough for a Democrat to win the seat.

Posted by: Patrick Star on May 5, 2010 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK



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