WASHINGTON - Three senior House members announced Tuesday that they would not seek reelection in 2014, offering both parties prime pickup opportunities in the midterm races.
The clearest opportunity for a party switch comes in Utah, where Democrat Jim Matheson said he would step down rather than make what likely would have been another bruising run in the ruby-red state.
Matheson won a seventh term in 2012 by just 768 votes against Mia Love, mayor of Saratoga Springs and a rising GOP star who plans to run again in 2014. Mitt Romney carried the district by 37 percentage points, the most lopsided result of any district currently represented by a Democrat. He becomes the first Democrat to announce plans to retire.
"While at the end of 2014 my tenure in the House of Representatives will come to an end, my duty to our state and our country will undoubtedly continue," said Matheson, the son of a former Utah governor whose brother ran unsuccessfully for the post in 2004.
Though Democrats are highly unlikely to hold that seat, two opportunities in more competitive terrain opened elsewhere as Rep. Tom Latham (R., Iowa) and Frank Wolf (R., Va.) announced their plans to retire.
Ten-term veteran Latham, a close ally of Speaker John A. Boehner, represents a district President Obama carried in both of his elections. Latham defeated Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell in 2012 in a rare contest of sitting incumbents caused by redistricting.
Wolf, first elected in 1980, represents parts of Northern Virginia that are increasingly trending Democratic. Romney narrowly carried the district in 2012 as Wolf cruised to a 19-point victory.
As Democrats eye a long-shot bid to regain control of the House, districts such as Latham's and Wolf's are prime targets. Currently 16 Republicans represent districts Obama won in 2012, and 14 represent districts where Romney won by less than 3 percentage points. Democrats need to pick up at least 17 seats to win the majority, pending the outcome of special elections in several districts.
The House is just days into an extended Christmas recess, a time when lawmakers traditionally make retirement announcements such as the three that came Tuesday.