Bill Delahunt retirement may move GOP closer to House takeover

The retirement of Rep. Bill Delahunt (D) of Massachusetts hands the GOP yet another opportunity in its bid for a House takeover in the fall.

By , Staff writer

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    The retirement of seven-term US Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), shown in this Feb. 22 photo, hands Republicans yet another opportunity to take over a Democratic House seat.
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The retirement of seven-term Rep. Bill Delahunt (D) of Massachusetts hands Republicans yet another opportunity to take over a Democratic House seat – and potentially moves the GOP another step closer to taking control of the House.

In a normal election cycle, a retirement from a Democratic-held House seat in blue Massachusetts would be no big deal. Another Democrat would swoop in and win it. But, for the third cycle in a row, this is shaping up to be no normal year. The Democratic Party is running scared, as it relearns the old political lesson: When you control everything, you take the blame for everything.

Representative Delahunt has long thought of retiring, and he told The Boston Globe that his decision has nothing to do with politics. “Life is about change,” he said. “I think it’s healthy. It’s time.”

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The Delahunt announcement comes on the heels of another Democratic congressman’s decision to retire, Eric Massa of New York. Still in his first term, Representative Massa cited health concerns, but lurking in the background are allegations that he sexually harassed a male staffer. Massa’s seat had long been held by Republicans, and the Democrats will be hard put to hold onto it.

So far, 17 House Democrats have decided to retire (along with 18 House Republicans). The steady stream toward the exits fits a pattern: When the going gets tough (this year, it’s the Democrats), the tough decide to spend more time with their family. On the flip side, Republicans already inclined to retire see a good time to leave; in most cases, the party is likely to hold onto the seat. Only two open GOP seats are seen in danger of takeover: Mark Kirk’s in Illinois and Michael Castle’s in Delaware. Both men are running for the Senate and are strong contenders to take Democratic-held seats.

Delahunt’s Massachusetts district, which encompasses Cape Cod and Boston’s South Shore, leans Democratic, but not as much as other parts of the state. In the special Senate race in January, it was Republican victor Scott Brown’s strongest district.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report now calls the Delahunt seat a tossup, citing a competitive Democratic primary field as well as two credible Republicans who are likely to run – former state Treasurer Joe Malone and state Rep. Jeffrey Perry.

Stuart Rothenberg, another nonpartisan handicapper, moves the seat from “safe” to “Democrat favored.”

Delahunt’s retirement capped a gloomy week for Democrats. Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York gave up his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee after being admonished by the House ethics committee over corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean. (In Pictures: Ethically challenged congressmen.) New York Gov. David Paterson (D) is holding onto his position by a thread, over messy entanglements involving domestic-abuse allegations against a top aide and a charge that he got free World Series tickets.

These issues, plus the allegation against Massa, contribute to an odor of impropriety around Democrats that does little to help those running in November.

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