This past week, additional members of Congress from both major U.S. political parties announced that they will not seek re-election.  The latest to announce include a conservative Republican and strong supporter of democracy in Cuba, a liberal Democrat skeptical of the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, and the son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy. 

"My father instilled in me a deep commitment to public service, whether through elected office like he and his brothers or non-profit advocacy like my Aunt Eunice's work with Special Olympics. Now having spent two decades in politics, my life is taking a new direction and I will not be a candidate for re-election this year," said Congressman Patrick Kennedy from Rhode Island State.

The You Tube video announcement by Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Edward Kennedy and nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, lengthened the list of lawmakers from both parties declaring an end to their careers in the U.S House of Representatives.

The departure of Kennedy, who served eight terms since being elected from Rhode Island in 1994 at the age of 27, will also mark the first time since 1962 that a member of the Kennedy family will not be serving in Congress.

Earlier in the week,  an announcement by California Representative Diane Watson brought to 13 the number of House Democrats deciding to retire or seek higher office.

Watson was known for her sharp questioning of military officials under both Bush and Obama administrations, about military strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan, as in this remark last December to the U.S commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal.

"You have asked for additional forces to go in, we are giving a great deal, the lives of our military, our finances to a country that operates based on war and they can't seem to bring their people to a point where they can defend their own nation," said Watson.

On the Republican side, 18 House lawmakers have so far announced they will retire or seek higher office including the latest, Florida Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart, one of the first Cuban-Americans elected to Congress.

With his brother Mario, also a member of Congress, Balart has been a key critic of the Castro government in Cuba, a record he recalled when he announced his retirement in Florida. "One of the achievements of which I am most proud was the codification, the writing into U.S. Law of the U.S. embargo on the Castro dictatorship," he said.
These and other announcements have added new fuel to the never-ending exercise by analysts and polling organizations, always more intense in election years, of projecting the impact on the balance of power in Congress.

While some seats, such as Watson's in California, are regarded as solidly Democratic, others are seen as competitive, including one in Pennsylvania left vacant by the recent death of Democrat John Murtha.

Republicans' departures

Most departing Republicans are from solid Republican districts.  But analysts note that Congressman Balart's district in Miami voted 49 percent in favor of President Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

Where issues are concerned, incumbent congressional Democrats face pressure from the strategy House and Senate Republicans are using to portray President Obama's economic recovery policies as bad for the nation, and using media to link Democratic candidates to those policies.

After Republican Scott Brown won his father's Massachusetts Senate seat, Congressman Patrick Kennedy called it a sign Americans would be out for "blood" and that voters were seeking someone to blame for jobs and homes lost in the recession.

On issues such as the economy and health care, President Obama recently suggested to House Republicans that they might suffer at the polls if they maintain generally unanimous opposition to and hostile tone about his policies, and withhold bipartisan cooperation.

"The fact of the matter is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party," said the president.

In the Senate, where Democrats have 57 seats to 41 Republicans, and two Independents, four Democrats and five Republicans have announced they will be leaving:  Democrats Christopher Dodd, Byron Dorgan, Roland Burris and Ted Kaufman;  and Republicans Christopher Bond, Judd Gregg, George Voinovich and Jim Bunning.

Some House lawmakers are seeking Senate seats or governorships. These include Florida Democrat Kendrick Meek, Republican Mark Kirk in Illinois, and Missouri Republican Roy Blunt.  Arkansas Congressman John Boozman is among Republicans trying to unseat Senate Democrat Blanche Lincoln, one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats.

As they try to advance President Obama's agenda in coming months, Democrats have good reasons to be concerned about potentially substantial mid-term election losses - 20 House seats by some predictions 25 or more by others - in a generally sour national political climate.  

Republicans would need 40 seats to take back the House majority.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently discounted this, saying she sees her party coming out of the November elections with a majority at minimum.

The Gallup organization recently reported that Republicans and Democrats were tied at 45 percent regarding which party's candidates voters would if mid-term elections were held now.  Democrats led by six points in mid-2009.
On Senate races, noted political analyst Charlie Cook has described Democrats' prospects as continuing to worsen, with Republicans posing serious challenges to a number of key Democrats, including majority leader Harry Reid.

More congressional retirements are expected in coming months.  And one thing is certain - the debates about where the momentum lies for which party and which candidates will only intensify in the run-up to the congressional mid-term elections in November.