WASHINGTON – Rep. Dennis Hastert's announcement Friday that he will not be seeking re-election next year is only one of what could be a virtual tsunami of Republican seat openings in Congress, as the party tries to prepare for the fight next year to win back power from Democrats.
Hastert, an Illinois Republican and former House speaker, just this week joined two other House colleagues who said they, too, will not be running: Ohio Rep. Deborah Pryce — also once a top House leader — and Mississippi Rep. Chip Pickering.
At the end of July, another Illinois Republican, Rep. Ray LaHood, also announced that his current term, his seventh, would be his last.
And at least in the House, another four GOP names are rumored to be among those who will not be seeking new terms come 2009: Don Young of Alaska, Barbara Cubin of Wyoming, Rick Renzi of Arizona, and Ralph Regula of Ohio.
In the Senate, Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said in January that he will not be seeking his third term.
A mass, early bolt for the exit door would be a change from the 2006 cycle in which Republicans held tightly to their seats despite a looming cloud of corruption scandals and a poor public perception over the Iraq war.
But on Nov. 7, Republicans lost 30 seats, handing power in the House and Senate to Democrats for the first time since the GOP takeover in 1994. The Democratic-led Congress, however, is showing its own signs of weakness, with approval ratings rating below those of the bottom-scraping White House, and vote margins that are proving difficult for more liberal wings of the party to complete agenda items.
The likelihood of adding seats is not a foregone conclusion, however. Some seats, like Hastert's, are in pretty well-established Republican territory, while others are in much more competitive districts. Pryce, for instance, only won her election last year over Democratic opponent Mary Jo Kilroy by fewer than 1,100 votes.
FOX News' Trish Turner contributed to this report.