2020 Elections

After wave of GOP retirements, House Democrats look to break further into red stronghold Texas

Key Points
  • A string of House Republican retirements has Democrats hoping to make more inroads in a traditionally red state.
  • Rep. Kenny Marchant is the latest GOP member to retire, following others including Will Hurd and Pete Olson in Texas.
  • The retirements come amid a suburban shift toward Democrats, though Republicans say they are not worried about competing in an increasingly diverse state.
Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, speaks during a news conference on the use of the "queen-of-the-hill" rule for DACA legislation in the House on Wednesday, April 18, 2018.
Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call Group | Getty Images

A wave of House Republican retirements has Democrats jumping at the chance to push deeper into a GOP stronghold.

Rep. Kenny Marchant, an eighth-term Texas Republican who represents Dallas suburbs, announced his retirement Monday. He becomes the 12th GOP House member to either say they will resign or not seek reelection since the current Congress started in January.

The pace of retirements has started to pick up. Seven Republicans have announced they will not run for another term since July 25. With members in their districts for all of August, more retirements could soon follow Marchant's.

The House Democratic campaign arm had already targeted several Texas seats in 2020 after flipping two districts in the state in last year's midterms. After three Texas Republicans who won reelection in 2018 by fewer than 5 percentage points bowed out, Democrats see an opening to gain more ground in traditionally red Texas as they push to hold their House majority.

Four Texas Republicans — Marchant and Reps. Will Hurd, Pete Olson and Mike Conaway — have announced their retirements in recent weeks. Their decisions not to run for office again follow a shift toward Democrats in suburban areas around the country in last year's midterms. Many congressional districts in Texas have also grown increasingly diverse — a trend a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party said is "causing significant anxiety" for Republicans.

The retirements show that for Republicans, serving in the House minority for the first time in eight years "isn't much fun," said Sean Theriault, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

"My suspicion is that the folks who are retiring don't think that the Republicans have a strong chance at taking back the House," he said.

The Republican Party explained the wave of retirements another way. National GOP spokesman Rick Gorka claimed that with "socialist" House Democrats "solely focused on witch-hunts, impeachment and photo-ops rather than governing, it's little wonder why members are retiring."

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted more seats in Texas since Democratic Reps. Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher flipped suburban districts outside of Dallas and Houston, respectively, in 2018. In a statement Monday, DCCC Chairwoman Rep. Cheri Bustos said "Democrats are well positioned to compete and flip more seats in Texas."

The committee will also set its sights on beating GOP Reps. Michael McCaul and John Carter, who both represent areas near Austin, said a DCCC source who declined to be named.

Republicans enter 2020 as favorites to hold most of the seats from which members will retire. Competing in Texas could prove more difficult for Democrats with President Donald Trump on the ballot next year than during the midterms.

The National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Michael McAdams said the string of retirements "does not change our focus on recapturing the majority."

"Texas is and will remain a Republican stronghold," he said.

Democrats have favorable matchups in some open seats, particularly the 23rd District in Texas that Hurd won by only half a percentage point last year. Hurd's retirement sent shockwaves throughout the GOP, as he was the only black Republican in the House and seen by many as the future of the Republican Party. Hurd and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina are the only black Republicans in Congress.

The retirements by themselves are concerning, but the rapidly shifting demographics in the Lone Star State mean Texas could become a battleground as early as 2020. Texas has not elected a Democrat in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford in 1976.

Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist who served as campaign manager for Sen. John Cornyn in 2014, said "we were sounding the alarm bells even back then" about the potential for Texas to get more competitive.

"The demographics are changing. By 2020, 2022, Texas will be competitive, especially if we don't make certain changes, if we don't take it upon ourselves to do better," he said.

Cornyn faces reelection next year. Multiple Democrats have already lined up to challenge him, buoyed by former Rep. Beto O'Rourke's closer than expected loss to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz last year.

Texas Republicans downplayed concerns about the party's diversity and ability to compete. Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey said the party has "an excellent, diverse range of candidates that have stepped up to represent us in Texas."

"I have zero doubts that the diversity in the Republican delegation will only grow after the 2020 election," he said.

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.