If Democrats Lose Big, Retirements May Follow

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Melina Mara / Washington Post / Getty Images

The Speaker is congratulated by her staff after the bill's passage... Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) along surrounded by leadership and key House chairman spoke to the media after the health care bill past in the House, on Capitol Hill March 21 in Washington, DC. The final vote was 220 to 211.

As Nancy Pelosi goes, so might a generation of her colleagues. If Democrats lose the House on Nov. 2, as most expect, there is a good chance that the House Speaker will opt to spend time with her eight grandchildren rather than toil in the relative obscurity of the minority. Retirement is not an uncommon choice for the boss of the losing party; Newt Gingrich stepped down three days after losing five House seats in 1998.

Other Democrats are sure to follow. After the GOP lost the House in 2006, 27 Republicans called it quits. But in the case of Pelosi's Democratic cloakroom, the exodus could be larger: five of the 20 current committee chairs are her allies from California. Without their champion, some, like Education and Labor Committee chairman George Miller, who has been in Congress since 1975, may be inclined to leave. Even if they don't head for the exits, they may choose to abandon their gavels: Standards Committee chair Zoe Lofgren is serving at Pelosi's request and has made no secret of her distaste at being her colleagues' ethical watchdog. Others are older: Rules Committee chair Louise Slaughter and Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, both 81, know that life in the minority holds less appeal for octogenarians.

A spate of younger retirements is also likely, giving Republicans an extra advantage Democrats enjoyed in 2008: dozens of open seats in districts that haven't been vacant for decades.