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What’s next for House after Paul Ryan’s exit?

April 13, 2018 GMT

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan is officially riding off into the sunset, and he’s not alone.

Ryan’s retirement announcement Wednesday brings the number of open House seats this fall to 59 — the second highest since World War II, according to Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. About two-thirds of those seats are currently held by Republicans.

That’s an ominous signal for Republicans generally and especially bad news for GOP incumbents in competitive districts, such as the Omaha area’s Rep. Don Bacon and southwest Iowa’s Rep. David Young.

“In addition to giving Republicans another vulnerable open seat to defend, Ryan’s retirement also sends an unmistakable signal about GOP concern for the House, even if Ryan’s departure is not about worries that his party is headed to the minority,” Kondik said. “Ryan also was and is a dynamite fundraiser, and others will have to pick up the slack after he leaves. We already knew the Republican majority was in danger — this is just another sign of GOP vulnerability.”

For his part, Ryan insisted Wednesday that he’s confident that the tax overhaul and his party’s other achievements will have him handing over the gavel to a fellow Republican come January.

He also said his motivation was all about spending more time with his kids.

“They all say that,” said John Hibbing, political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Hibbing noted that the partisan imbalance in the number of retirements shows that something more going on.

“Otherwise it’d just be a bizarre coincidence that there’s something about 2018 which is making family men out of Republicans but not Democrats,” Hibbing said.

News stories had been suggesting for months that Ryan was seeking an exit strategy but Wednesday’s announcement still took many Republican House members by surprise.

“I didn’t think he was going to do it,” Bacon said.

He and other Republican members praised Ryan for his leadership and dedication over the years.

“I feel like we need him,” Bacon said. “The guy didn’t want to do this job. He stepped up when he was needed and I think he has the respect of the conference from all wings, with maybe a few exceptions.”

Republicans will certainly miss his ability to unite differing GOP factions, which include moderates who are willing to back bipartisan compromises and conservatives spoiling for bare-knuckled ideological fights.

Ryan’s retirement also potentially means a leadership contest going on behind the scenes for months to come.

As a lame duck, Ryan could have more trouble raising money and conveying a unified message on behalf of fellow Republicans. While local issues dominate elections, a prevailing national mood can be a deciding factor in a tight race.

The results of recent special elections have shown a shift toward Democrats, and taking everything together should make Republican incumbents in swing districts nervous, Hibbing said.

But Young, who said he respects Ryan’s decision to focus on his family, doesn’t see his retirement as an indication that Republicans are set to lose in November.

“Others might, but I’m a pretty optimistic guy,” Young said.

Regardless of Ryan’s decision and other national factors, Young said it’s up to him as an individual candidate to raise money and win support.

“I’ve got to be responsible for myself,” Young said. “I can’t depend on anybody else.”