Another Swing-District Republican Will Retire: Rodney Frelinghuysen

UNITED STATES - JUNE 27: House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., prepares for a House Appropriations State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the "United Nations and International Organizations FY2018 Budget" on June 27, 2017. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, testified. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Group

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) will retire at the end of his term, he announced Monday, opening up another swing district ahead of the 2018 elections.

“Today as I announce my retirement at the end of this session of Congress, I want to use the opportunity to strongly encourage the many young people I meet to consider public service,” he said in a Monday statement. “I thank my friends and colleagues with whom I have served.”

Frelinghuysen’s retirement opens up a suburban northern New Jersey seat, boosting Democrats’ chances at winning it in what’s shaping up to be a good year for the party and marking the latest in a string of GOP retirements that have further damaged the party’s chances at holding onto the House. President Trump won the district by just a one-point margin after Mitt Romney carried it by six in 2012, and Democrats had already planned to target it this fall.

He’s the latest senior Republican to decide to head for the exits — and the eighth GOP committee chairman who’s decided to hang things up. Unlike other powerful committee chairmen, Frelinghuysen just won his chairmanship and could continue to serve as chairman for five more years. That makes his retirement is especially notable — a strong sign that his decision was driven by the political headwinds Republicans face this year.

A whopping 24 House Republicans have announced their retirements or already resigned this Congress who aren’t running for higher office, compared with just seven Democrats. That retirement rate is even higher than ahead of previous wave elections like 2010, 2006 and 1994.

Frelinghuysen had clearly been feeling that heat after decades without a serious campaign challenge (he’d once been so safe in the district that Michael Moore tried to run a ficus plant as a write-in against him to illustrate the lack of competition). He drew national attention last year for contacting the boss of a local constituent who’d been leading protests against him to complain about her. Late last year, the normally reliable fiscal conservative joined a number of other New Jersey Republicans in voting against the GOP’s recent corporate tax cuts because some of the pay-fors are projected to badly hurt New Jersey real estate, drawing the ire of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

His retirement also marks the potential end of a centuries-old political dynasty in New Jersey dating back to the Revolutionary War. Four Frelinghuysens have served as New Jersey senators, and the congressman’s father held his congressional seat for decades from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Both parties pledged to hotly contest his seat in next year’s midterms.

“Congressman Frelinghuysen’s record of service to New Jersey’s 11th district will be remembered for decades to come,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) said in a statement. “This district has been held by a Republican since the 1980’s, and we plan to keep it that way in November.”

“Representative Frelinghuysen’s retirement opens up a very competitive seat that is moving quickly towards Democrats,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Evan Lukaske said. “Democrats are confident that this seat will turn blue next November.”

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