Nine-term Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad announced his retirement today. The news was seen as another headache for Republicans who are trying to stave off deeper losses in 2008, and that ‘s probably fair. Minnesota’s Third District is classically Republican; it consists of Minneapolis’ prosperous western suburbs and some surrounding rural area. Like many such districts, however, it has been trending toward the Democrats. Bill Clinton carried the Third twice, but President Bush edged out John Kerry there in 2004.
Ramstad is a self-described centrist who says he is part of a “dying breed of Republican moderates.” In recent years, he has voted with the Democrats about as often as with his own party on key issues. In truth, he hasn’t been very visible in recent years.
There is no doubt that Ramstad’s retirement makes what would otherwise have been a safe Republican seat competitive for the Democrats; on the other hand, it also may result in a more reliable and more conservative Republican being elected in 2008.
My own view is that suburban districts like the Third started trending Democratic mostly because, by 2000, the Democrats had been out of power in Congress for some time. The dangers of high taxes, wasteful government regulations and weak national security seemed less imminent and less threatening. Many suburban voters thus began paying more attention to “soft” issues like the environment. And, of course, in today’s media environment it is always easier to be a Democrat.
Who wins the Third District in 2008 will depend mostly on which party fields the stronger candidate. But it will also depend in part on whether the Democrats’ performance in Congress between now and then reminds conservative-leaning suburbanites of why they were Republicans in the first place.
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