Every election cycle, on a list of "vulnerable incumbents," the name of Rep. Dennis Moore always comes up. The Kansas Democrat represents the small 3rd District, centered around Kansas City in the eastern part of the state. Aside from Lawrence, which includes the University of Kansas (the most liberal part of the state), the district is reliably Republican. For a dozen years, until her retirement in 1996, the seat was held by Jan Meyers (R).
But the ideological war that some Republicans find themselves in was in full bloom in Kansas in the mid-1990s. Vince Snowbarger, a strong conservative who replaced Meyers in '96, had battled with more moderate members of his own party en route to Washington. Moore took advantage of that divide in 1998, ousting Snowbarger and subsequently beating back strong Republican candidates.
(Another Kansas Democrat, Kathleen Sebelius — now the Secretary of Health and Human Services — also benefited from the GOP family feud by winning the first of two gubernatorial campaigns in 2002.)
In his last three races, Moore finished with at least 55 percent of the vote, a sign that some took to mean that Moore was settling in.
So while Moore continued to find his name on the list of potential vulnerables, sources in Kansas say that was not based in reality ... that Moore did his homework and was solid with constituent service. They said the only way the GOP could win the seat is if Moore retired.
And that's what's going to happen today. The move by Moore, after six terms, is thought to be a body blow to the Democrats' chances of holding onto the seat. The Kansas City Star's Steve Kraske says his retirement is "likely to open a political gold rush of potential successors." He lists several Republicans who are ready to jump in the race, including Nick Jordan, who got 40 percent of the vote against Moore last year.
Republicans say "they believed Moore ... was in trouble because of his support for many of President Barack Obama's initiatives, including the stimulus package and health care reform." Democrats say that his willingness to break from party orthodoxy, such as his votes on free trade, is what helped keep him in Congress.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza says it's too soon to say whether Moore's retirement "is a harbinger of things to come for House Democrats or an isolated case." But if Moore "is the first of a series of Democratic incumbents who decide to take a pass on running for re-election in what is shaping up to be a very tough environment, it will widen the playing field considerably and raise Republicans chances of winning a significant number of seats in the midterms."
House Members leaving after 2010:
Neil Abercrombie (HI) — running for governor
Artur Davis (AL) — running for governor
Paul Hodes (NH) — running for Senate
Kendrick Meek (FL) — running for Senate
Charlie Melancon (LA) — running for Senate
Dennis Moore (KS) — retiring
Joe Sestak (PA) — running for Senate
Robert Wexler (FL) — resigning*
*resignation to take place in early January 2010, with special election to follow.
J. Gresham Barrett (SC) — running for governor
Roy Blunt (MO) — running for Senate
Mike Castle (DE) — running for Senate
Nathan Deal (GA) — running for governor
Mary Fallin (OK) — running for governor
Jim Gerlach (PA) — running for governor
Peter Hoekstra (MI) — running for governor
Mark Kirk (IL) — running for Senate
Jerry Moran (KS) — running for Senate
Adam Putnam (FL) — running for state agriculture commissioner
Todd Tiahrt (KS) — running for Senate
Zach Wamp (TN) — running for governor