Congress got a jolt Tuesday when three House members announced they will step down at the end of their terms, creating 2014 pickup opportunities for both parties.
The retirements of Republican Reps. Frank Wolf of Virginia and Tom Latham of Iowa came as welcome news to Democrats, who need a net gain of 17 seats to capture a House majority in the midterm elections.
Latham, a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner's, was first elected to the House in 1994. The Iowa Republican has typically breezed to re-election, though redistricting forced him into a tough incumbent-vs.-incumbent matchup against Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell in 2012. Latham won that contest 52 percent to 44 percent.
Despite his victory, Latham's southwest Iowa district is no Republican stronghold: President Obama carried it by 4 percentage points in 2012 and 6 points in 2008.
Wolf's decision not to seek re-election in Virginia's 10th District puts another GOP-held seat in play.
The Northern Virginia-based seat stretches from McLean all the way out through the Shenandoah Valley to the West Virginia line. While Democrats have made the state's Washington, D.C., suburbs their stronghold in recent elections, Wolf's district isn't quite as Democrat-friendly as those closer to the Beltway.
President Obama won the district in 2008 by 3 percentage points, in a year he won Virginia by 6. Last year, he again ran behind his statewide average: Obama carried Virginia by 3 points, but lost Wolf's district by 1 point.
What's more, the electorate in a midterm year is likely to be older and less ethnically diverse — which is to say, more GOP-friendly — than in those presidential elections.
In Utah, where Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson announced his retirement Tuesday, the race to succeed him is expected to be less competitive. Matheson currently represents a strongly Republican seat that he barely held on to in 2012, winning by fewer than 800 votes.
In a seat where President Obama won just 30 percent in 2012, Democrats aren't expected to put up much of a fight for the seat without Matheson on the ballot.