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Breaking down the Democratic turnover in Congress ahead of the mid-term election

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you are blissfully brining your turkey right now and have no patience for politics, might I suggest turning down your volume for just a couple minutes and I won't tell anyone? But if preparing for Thanksgiving while thinking about the midterm elections is your jam, this is for you. Believe it or not, we are exactly 348 days from the midterm elections. And we already know of dozens of lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, who are calling it quits. In a moment, we'll hear from Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier on why she's not running again. But first, we turn to NPR's Deirdre Walsh for the big picture. Deirdre, thanks for being here and happy Thanksgiving.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel. Happy Thanksgiving.

MARTIN: All right. So Democrats are in control right now, so they have the most to lose. And so far, 17 House Democrats have said they're retiring or running for a different political office. Is that a normal turnover rate?

WALSH: It is. And Democrats are really quick to point that out. The chair of the House Democrats campaign arm, Sean Patrick Maloney, downplayed the retirements so far, saying it's a personal decision to run for the House and a personal one on when to leave. Here's Maloney.

SEAN PATRICK MALONEY: The numbers this year for retirements are perfectly aligned with what happens in pretty much every cycle, let alone a redistricting cycle. So I don't make too much of it.

WALSH: Republicans obviously see it differently. They say Democrats are leaving in a reaction to the fact that President Biden's approval ratings have fallen low; they're in the low 40s right now. And the midterm elections tend to be a referendum on the president. We have a new NPR-Marist poll out that also shows inflation fears are really driving the president's poll numbers down.

MARTIN: So it's not just Democrats retiring though, right? What's the turnover compared to Republicans?

WALSH: A dozen House Republicans at this point. In the last midterm election, ahead of that election, there were 29 House Republicans a year out who said they were retiring or running for another office. And that year, Democrats did flip control of the House. And they said retirements were a big factor. And many of the retirements are in districts that are competitive, like Conor Lamb's in Pennsylvania. He's a Democrat who decided to run for the Senate there instead of his House seat. There are others like Conor Lamb, including Val Demings who represents a competitive seat in Florida. She's going to run for Senate against Republican Marco Rubio. Tim Ryan is running for Senate in Ohio. And Karen Bass of California, she's actually running for mayor of Los Angeles.

MARTIN: Right. When we focus in on the Republican decisions here, how much of it has to do with former President Donald Trump?

WALSH: He's actually been a big factor so far. He's already backing primary challenges against Republicans who voted to impeach him. Ohio Congressman Anthony Gonzalez is one of them. When he was elected, he was a top-tier recruit - the first Latino to represent Ohio in Congress. But he said when he decided to step down, that Trump was, quote, "a cancer for the country." Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger also voted to impeach Trump. And Trump has really publicly and repeatedly been attacking him. And he also said he's stepping down because the party is too focused on loyalty to one person and has strayed from its Republican principles, in his view. There are some House Republicans, like Democrats, who are running for other offices. Ted Budd from North Carolina is running for Senate. Lee Zeldin in New York is running for governor there.

MARTIN: So all these retirements create a certain amount of opportunities, right? How's recruiting going?

WALSH: Well, Republicans say enthusiasm to run for office is outpacing previous elections for their candidates. They point out that over 800 candidates have filed to run for the House already. That's a record number and more than double the number who filed to run in 2010. They're reaching out to female candidates, minorities and veterans. The chair of the House Republicans campaign arm, Tom Emmer, has been saying for the last couple weeks Democrats have two options. He said, quote, "retire or lose." And his committee is actually running an ad campaign over the Thanksgiving break targeting some Democrats in swing districts and urging them to quit. Democrats say Republicans have a lot of ground to make up in terms of fielding diverse candidates. And they feel like they're in good position this year.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Deirdre Walsh. She covers Congress. Deirdre, thanks. We appreciate it.

WALSH: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.