Obey (D-WI-7th) to Retire

05/05/2010 04:34 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011


A bit of a parochial post but with a national figure at its center and reflecting the national midterm forces.

David Obey announced his retirement today. He has been in the House since 1969 and is currently chair of Appropriations. He was facing a challenger from Sean Duffy, a district attorney since 2002 in Ashland county (on Lake Superior). Obey has $1.4M COH while Duffy has $340K, but that is the lowest ratio of any WI Dem incumbent, at 4:1. Duffy as gotten a good bit of attention as a potential break-out challenger and recent endorsements from Palin and Pawlenty.

I'm not aware of any public polling in the 7th. We don't have any at and I don't know of any elsewhere either. No idea what parties or candidates may have.

Obey last faced a real challenge in 1994, the year 2010 is increasingly being compared to. He got 54% that year, 57% in 1996 and hasn't been below 60% since. Now at 71, facing the prospect of a tough reelection like that 1994 race, he must have felt he just didn't have enough to gain by fighting another battle against the prospect of leaving office by defeat. He says he is "bone tired" and that may well be. But the electoral winds are blowing hard against Dems this year, and that is making a lot of them much more "tired" than they were two years ago.

Pure speculation on my part: Obey might win a tough reelection fight (I'm sure he thinks he would win) but find himself back in the minority in the House, not as Chair of Appropriations but as ranking minority member. It wasn't any fun for him as minority member prior to 2006, and it sure would be less fun to go back to the minority after being Chair. While no one knows if the Reps will take control of the House, that had to be a consideration for Obey, and he is in a good place to read the writing on the wall. Just saying.

While the district leans Dem (Obama got 56%) in competitive races it is more of a toss up. In the 2006 Attorney General race, VanHollen (R) lost by just 7,000 votes out of 250,000 cast while winning statewide. A little worse than his statewide performance, but it shows a competitive Rep can win the district. Obey simply hasn't had competitors strong enough since the 1990s to give any sense of how far the district might go for a Rep in an open House seat race.

Dems/pundits are throwing out the obvious names: state legislators with districts in the 7th: State Senators Kreitlow (23rd), Lassa (24th), Majority Leader Decker (29th), and State Assembly members Seidel (85th) and Vruwink (70th). (Vruwink was an Obey staffer a while back.) Obviously they are doing exactly what I did: look for every elected Dem from the district and mention them! <;-) Of these, those young enough are Kreitlow (46), Lassa (40) and Vruwink (35). Decker at 57 isn't out of it, but not comparable to Duffy's 37. But Kreitlow and Decker are both up for reelection this year, making it a harder decision to go for the Congressional seat especially in a tough year for Dems.

Consider this a case study, one example of many adding to the sense that this year is moving strongly in the GOPs favor. (And I say that as one who still forecasts Dems to retain the House. But I might be wrong.)