In an interview with Kentucky Today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressed concern this week over how his party might fare in the 2018 midterm elections.
Speaking with the paper's editorial board, McConnell said "This is going to be a challenging year. We know the wind is going to be in our face. We don't know whether it's going to be a Category 3, 4, or 5."
Other GOP lawmakers have voiced fears for their party in 2018, citing jitters over President Trump's tariffs, the passage of a bloated omnibus spending bill and the possibility of an energized Democratic Party.
McConnell said he hopes for Republicans to be able to at least hold the Senate, where critical appointments can shape the future of the country.
Referring specifically to the nominations of judges, McConnell said, "I believe that's the most important thing we're doing. You've heard me say before that I thought the decision I made not to fill the Supreme Court vacancy when Justice Scalia died was the most consequential decision I've made in my entire public career. The things that will last the longest time, those are my top priorities."
According to NPR, a record number of Republican lawmakers are not seeking re-election in Congress this year — leaving their seats more vulnerable to Democratic candidates who won't be facing an incumbent.
Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson also spoke of the Republican exodus, saying that "Retirements, especially from competitive seats, are a harbinger of the cycle to come. Some members do truly retire to spend more time with their families, but many retire rather than face voters in a tough re-election battle in a bad climate. And you'd rather go out on top than go out as a loser."
Republican Senators Thad Cochran, Bob Corker, and Jeff Flake all announced this year that they would not seek re-election. On the House side, Trent Franks, Charlie Dent and Jimmy Duncan also said they plan to retire from Congress after their terms. Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah resigned in June 2017.
But Democrats are seeing their fair share of retired office holders, too; NPR pointed to fifteen of the party's House members passing on re-election bids in 2018.
The state of the economy carries heavy sway in the minds of voters, and many Republicans point to this year's tax cuts as a victory that will continue to energize their base.
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Jesse Hunt said, "We've had quality candidates announce in these open seats, and we're confident they will remain in Republican control."