Ryan Departure Leaves Yet Another House Seat Up for Democrats

In addition to opening up the Speakership, there's a legitimate possibility that Wisconsin-11 flips to the other party.

As Doug Mataconis noted earlier today, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is retiring from Congress, setting up a leadership fight. It also puts his seat very much in play.

CNN (“House Key Race alerts: Paul Ryan’s and six other seats move toward Democrats“):

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s bombshell announcement that he will not seek re-election brings with it immediate and long-term political ramifications for his southeast Wisconsin district and the House landscape overall, where Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to gain the majority in 2019.

The most acute effect will be felt in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, which Ryan has represented since 1999. He already was facing a potential challenge from Democrat Randy Bryce, who had raised nearly $5 million for his campaign, including $2 million in the first quarter of 2018. The district, which includes Kenosha and Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, is more favorable terrain for Democrats than the southwest Pennsylvania district Conor Lamb won in the March special election.


More broadly, Republicans are also losing the party’s best fundraiser for House candidates. Just this Monday, Ryan’s campaign announced hauling in more than $11 million in the first quarter of the year, bringing its total raised to $54 million — and transferring more than $40 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee to help other GOP candidates this cycle.
Then there are the optics of the decision. By announcing his retirement now, it sends a dire signal to Republicans that an already tough environment could get even more challenging.

Ryan’s open seat moves from Likely Republican to Lean Republican, with the potential to become more competitive depending on who the GOP nominates to run in this district.

While it strikes me as unlikely that Ryan’s seat will flip, it’s certainly possible. This is very much shaping up to be a wave election and those tend to come with major surprises. In 1994, when Newt Gingrich-led Republicans took back the House for the first time in decades, among the casualties was Tom Foley, the sitting Speaker of the House.

The seldom-discussed corollary to that oft-noted fact that Congressmen are seldom defeated for re-election is that Congressmen who face reasonable likelihood of defeat tend to retire instead. And we have a shocking number of retirements this year. This graphic is from the above-cited CNN report:

Not only is this a staggering number of vacancies but they’re overwhelmingly Republican. All 27 of the “Likely Republican” seats were already Republican; ditto all 18 of the “Lean Republican” seats. Of the 21 “Toss-Up” seats, 19 are currently held by Republicans. More shockingly, of the 11 “Lean Democratic” and 11 “Likely Democratic” seats, a total of 9 are currently held by Republicans. [UPDATE: As regular Stormy Dragon notes in the comments, there is some skew here because the PA Supreme Court rulings tossing out the extant districting plan has massively affected four seats in that state.]

If these seats all go as CNN predicts right now—and they won’t—the Democrats would pick up 18 seats (the 9 likely/lean Democratic and half the toss-ups). That’s still shy of the needed 23. But the nature of a wave is that the toss-ups tend to go all one way. If they got 9 + 19, they’d be at 28, well above the threshold.

Suffice it to say, the battle to replace Ryan as Republican leader might not be where the next Speaker comes from.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Worth noting that Dennis Ross is leaving as well. His announcement got buried by Ryan’s. Not especially optimistic about the FL 15th, but it’s doable in a wave year.

  2. Two people I know who know Wisconsin politics much better than I ever will tell me that the GOP is likely to hold on to Ryan’s seat at least through the next round of redistricting. But we’ll see.

    As for the overall battle for Congress, I now think we’re more likely to see the Democrats take the House than the Senate, but only by a narrow margin that will make holding the caucus together more difficult for Pelosi or whoever the next Speaker might be.

  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    More shockingly, of the 11 “Lean Democratic” and 11 “Likely Democratic” seats, a total of 9 are currently held by Republicans.

    It should be noted that four of them are from new redistricting in PA, so it’s somewhat misleading to say they’re “currently held” by either party. e.g. Cartwright’s district is currently on the New Jersey border and in November will be on the Ohio border.

  4. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Captain “Spineless” Ryan abandons ship.
    The timing strikes me as odd. He has denied he was leaving for months. Why fess-up now, and leave himself as a lame-duck?
    Doesn’t make sense from a political view. I mean…he’s never been as smart as people seem to think he is…but this seems particularly dumb.

  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    On closer inspection, the handling of PA districts in that CNN chart makes no sense. Perry, for example, is currently the rep for PA-4, and area south of Harrisburg. In 2018, he’s running for PA-10, a different area south of Harrisburg, and PA-4 is being moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia. So when it says “PA Perry” is likely Republican, the presumably mean PA-10. But then what does “PA Costello” refer to when Costello’s not running for anything in 2018? His current district? Why is Dent’s seat listed as open, but not Costello’s when both are retiring? incumbents Conor Lamb (formerly PA-18) and Keith Rothfus (formerly PA-12) are both running for PA-17. Why is it listed as a Republican Tossup?

  6. Scott says:

    Now if only the vile Paul Nehlen (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Nehlen) gets the Republican nomination for Ryan’s district, then the odds are even better.

    Nehlen is a real piece of work.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I must confess I don’t know the Pennsylvania situation very well; I was taking the CNN chart at face value.

  8. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    I don’t think whoever made the chart knows the PA situation well either.

  9. teve tory says:

    The timing strikes me as odd. He has denied he was leaving for months. Why fess-up now, and leave himself as a lame-duck?
    Doesn’t make sense from a political view. I mean…he’s never been as smart as people seem to think he is…but this seems particularly dumb.

    He denied he’d resign for months. And yeah, he’s dumb, but if i were him I’d be Audi S5 with a 4WD. Much more money doing much easier lobbying/board work with no more tard-wrangling.

  10. Daryl’s other brother Darryl says:

    @teve tory:
    Maybe he can start selling pot, like Boehner.

  11. MBunge says:

    Considering the GOP performance in Congress the last 20 years, this implosion may be the healthiest thing to happen to our politics in a very long time.


  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MBunge: Mass suicide has never been particularly healthy but that’s what happened when you all elected trump as president.

  13. Not the IT Dept. says:

    This is the first shoe. The second shoe drops when it is announced which Koch Brothers company or contractor he’s going to work for when he enters the “private” sector. That whole tax scheme was Ryan’s job interview. Obviously, he passed.