GOP moderate from Ohio quitting his seat. Is he punishing his party?

The announcement by Steven LaTourette, just three months before November elections, that he is retiring, could cost Republicans a House seat they had expected to win.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. A longtime ally of Boehner, Rep. Steven LaTourette, is set to retire this year.

Potentially leaving his party in the lurch, Rep. Steven LaTourette (R) of Ohio is set to announce his retirement at the end of this term, the Columbus Dispatch and The Hill newspaper reported Monday evening.

The nine-term lawmaker – a longtime ally of Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and one of the dwindling ranks of GOP moderates – was one of the first Republicans to break with the antitax pledge of Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, riling bedrock conservatives. He also backed the 2010 Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan, which called for tax hikes along with spending cuts and entitlement reforms.

Ohio Democrats have nominated accountant Dale Blanchard, a foe LaTourette vanquished twice before, in 2000 and 2002. Until Mr. LaTourette's announcement, expected Tuesday, Mr. Blanchard was likely only token competition. He had yet to raise any funds for his campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. LaTourette, by comparison, had raised more than $1 million and had some $600,000 in cash on hand.

To say his announcement amounts to pulling an Olympia Snowe – the Republican Senator from Maine announced her retirement out of the blue back in March, turning a solid Republican electoral prospect into grave peril – by announcing one’s electoral intentions deep into an election year, would be an understatement.

LaTourette pulled what might be called a Super Snowe in leaving the party scrambling for a replacement just three months before the November elections in a district, Ohio’s 14th, that is at best narrowly Republican. President Obama knotted with Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona there in 2008 at 49 to 49 percent, while President Bush defeated Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts in 2004 by a 53-to-47 margin.

The Monitor could not reach LaTourette’s office for comment, but the Dispatch reports that his resignation centered on a dispute with party leadership over committee assignments. While LaTourette will reportedly address the media at 10 a.m. Tuesday to formalize his announcement, the lawmaker has frequently been at odds with an increasingly conservative and compromise-averse caucus.

He is the Republican co-sponsor of a budget attempting to legislate the debt-slashing measures offered by the Simpson-Bowles commission, along with Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, one of the last moderate “blue dog” Democrats. The bill received a thrashing on the House floor earlier this year, garnering only 38 votes after interest groups on both sides of the ideological spectrum let loose a barrage of criticism.

He also publicly clashed with the party on transportation, publicly decrying the five-year plan sponsored by Speaker Boehner. He also was one of two Republicans (Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia is the other) to vote against criminal contempt charges for Attorney General Eric Holder when the House underwent a fierce, sharp-elbowed debate on the matter in late June.

LaTourette is the 11th Republican member of Congress to announce his retirement during this term.

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