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The significance of Moore's retirement

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Is the news of Kansas Rep. Dennis Moore's (D) retirement a finger pulled out of the dam of more retirements to come?

That has to be a big fear of Democrats looking to stave off a massive loss of House seats next year.

A Moore aide confirms that he will be retiring and added that a written statement will be released later today.

"He's been 30 years serving the public, and it's time to start spending time with his family," the aide said on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the congressman's thinking.

Democrats are already expected to lose double-digit House seats, given (1) The history of the party in power of a newly elected president's first term traditionally loses double-digit seats, (2) That Democrats likely hit a high-water mark in the House after big gains in the last two election cycles, where they won in lots of right-leaning districts, (3) The economy, (4) Populist outrage over government bailouts and the like, and (5) An overall anti-government/anti-Washington climate.

As political guru Charlie Cook wrote in his recent column: "In trying to figure out what might happen in the House, the two things to watch over the next couple of months are Democratic retirements and GOP recruiting. ... Keep in mind that in 1994 -- the last horrific election for Democrats -- 22 of Democrats' 52 net losses were in open seats. It's highly unlikely that 40 or more House Democratic incumbents will be unseated, but if there are a slew of retirements in pivotal districts, just 20 or 25 incumbent casualties -- eminently possible -- combined with tough open seat losses could turn over the majority. ...

"Today Democrats have only seven open seats -- none are pure retirements, all have been created by bids for other office -- of which only three look vulnerable."

But, one reason for Democrats to have hope that they won't see a mass exodus -- and therefore mass bloodshed -- like in '94 is that this is a very different crop of Democrats. Those Democrats had been in power since FDR. These just regained power in 2007.

To poorly adapt Scottish-born American Revolutionary Naval hero John Paul Jones' words, they have not yet begun to legislate.

As Cook wrote: "[U]p until now, there didn't seem to be much of a prospect of many Democratic retirements. After all, they just got back the majority in January 2007 and finally have a Democrat in the White House, not a Republican who could veto proposals they hold near and dear."

But Moore's retirement has to be a worrisome sign. Moore, 64, was first elected to the seat in 1998. He won re-election in 2008, 56%-40%, and President Obama narrowly won the district over Sen. John McCain 51%-48%. But George W. Bush won it in 2004 55%-44%.

And Moore has had some tough re-elections. In 1998, he won with 52%, but then in 2000 and 2002, he won with just 50%. That went up to 55% in 2004, 65% in 2006 and then dropped in 2008.

He's exactly the kind of Democrat the party can't afford to lose. His seat will be an automatic Republican target.

*** UPDATE *** Here's Moore's statement:
"It has been an honor and a privilege to have been elected six times to represent the people of the Third District in the U.S. House of Representatives. I have decided not to seek reelection in 2010. It is time for a new generation of leadership to step forward.

"I am proud of all we have accomplished since I was first elected in 1998. I have always sought to be an active representative, engaged in the concerns and activities of our community. My staff of hardworking Kansans has resolved thousands of cases for constituents facing federal government-related problems and has supported my work in Washington. I was proud to write and help enact legislation to increase death gratuity benefits for service members' families, improved R&R travel benefits for service personnel and childproof cap requirements for gasoline cans. And I successfully worked to bring over $190 million of targeted federal funds back to our district for things like flood control, improved transportation and social services.

"I served as Policy Co-Chair for the Blue Dog Coalition for two years during the first Congress in which they were part of the congressional majority. With the Blue Dogs and as a member of the House Budget Committee, I strongly supported fiscally responsible budgets and pay as you go rules. As a senior member of the Financial Services Committee, I became chair of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, which this year has already held seven hearings on TARP implementation and ways to strengthen financial services industry oversight, and helped lay the foundation for comprehensive regulatory reform.

"I have always taken this responsibility very seriously. A public office is a public trust. This has been the most exciting and frustrating job I have ever had. Exciting because of the opportunities to do the right thing for our people, especially those who most need our support. Frustrating because of the strident partisanship which too often distracts Congress from squarely addressing the critical issues of our time.

"The current year has been the most intense and busy of my tenure. We have spent long hours struggling over detailed, controversial and far-reaching legislative proposals to reform health insurance, control global warming, and stimulate the economy, along with financial services regulatory reform. Yes, it is tiring. But I have always sought to represent the moderate mainstream of the district, which I hope now will host a robust competition between the two parties to fill this congressional seat. As the first Democrat elected to represent this district in 40 years back in 1998, I know that there didn't used to be partisan competition in northeast Kansas. This progress is good for democracy and important in ensuring that all voices are heard.

"I will remain fully engaged in my job until the end of 2010 and anticipate a smooth transition with my successor. My sincere thanks to the voters of the Third District, to my wonderful wife Stephene, our family, my friends, staff and congressional colleagues for making this unique opportunity for public service possible."