Winning Back The House Just Got Harder For Dems

Democrats’ hopes of winning control of the House just got a little bit dimmer: Two Democratic representatives, including one from a conservative district in North Carolina, just announced that they won’t run for reelection later this year, giving Republicans two potential pickup opportunities for the 2014 midterms. Democrats need to win 17 Republican-held seats in order to gain control of the lower chamber; with the retirements of Carolyn McCarthy and Mike McIntyre, they’ll now have to win two open seats as well.

McCarthy’s retirement is a blow for gun control advocates. In 1993, McCarthy’s husband was killed in a shooting spree on the Long Island Rail Road. That inspired her to switch her party affiliation to Democrat and run for Congress on a gun control platform. She’s been a strong proponent of stricter gun regulations ever since; in 2011, Politico called her “the fiercest gun control advocate in Congress.”

As McCarthy represents a moderately liberal district in New York, her seat shouldn’t be too difficult for Democrats to retain, though it’ll require the party to spend time and money they’d surely rather spend on flipping Republican seats elsewhere. McIntyre’s seat, however, is a different issue entirely. His district voted for Mitt Romney by a 20-point margin in 2012, and he just barely won reelection that same year. The conservative National Review referred to the now-open seat as an “easy lay-up” for the Republican Party.

The retirement of McIntyre is symbolic of broader polarization in the House that began in 2010. Democrats had won the chamber in 2006 by nominating conservative candidates to run in red districts, but most of those conservative Democrats were defeated in 2010. The result was that the House Democratic caucus swung drastically to the left. McIntyre was one of the few remaining Blue Dogs in the House, and so with his exit, House Democrats just got a little bit more progressive on average.

With all of that said, there are a lot of Republican representatives retiring as well — 17, to be exact, more than the seven retiring Democrats — and so McCarthy and McIntyre’s decisions aren’t necessarily a death blow for Democrats’ chances of retaking the House. But they do render an already uphill climb a little bit steeper.

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