Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama has announced that he will retire when his term expires at the end of 2022. Shelby is 86 and has been in Congress since 1979.
I don’t think Shelby has been a bad Senator, and he has long been popular with those who count most — his Alabama constituents. But if Washington is a “swamp,” then Shelby is one of its creatures. A lobbyist I knew years ago used to call him Dick (“I’m having a fundraiser”) Shelby.
Shelby came to D.C. as a Democrat. He moved seamlessly to the GOP as the tide turned against his party in the South.
Three of Shelby’s Republican colleagues have already said they won’t seek reelection in 2022. The three are Rob Portman of Ohio, Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Richard Burr of North Carolina.
The Democrats have virtually no hope of winning the Alabama seat. However, the other three will be very much in play, most likely. In addition, Ron Johnson figures to have a difficult fight on his hands in Wisconsin.
The Democrats, for their part, will have to defend newly acquired seats in Georgia (Raphael Warnock) and Arizona (Mark Kelly). Their other incumbents figure to be clear favorites, with the possible exception of Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada.
The 2022 Senate math favors the Dems. They need only defend 14 seats. The GOP must defend 20.
However, the president’s party typically suffers in the midterm elections. And, to an unusual degree, Democratic Senators figure to be voting for some pretty radical legislation during the next two years.
I hope that these GOP advantages will be enough to offset the math, plus whatever headwinds Trump’s continuing influence produces. In any case, Shelby’s retirement almost certainly won’t cost the party a seat, and offers the opportunity to elect a more conservative, less swamp-like Alabama Senator.