Rep. Ryan Costello won't seek reelection, he announced Sunday night, opening a major opportunity for Democrats in the fight for control of the U.S. House.
Costello, 41, a Chester County Republican who is in his second term, cited frustration with the partisan divisions as well as new congressional lines that made his reelection campaign even tougher in telling both MSNBC and the Daily Local, in his home county, his decision to drop out of the running.
"It's a very angry environment," he told the Daily Local. "It is a sad commentary on the state of our culture and political environment. It's not me doing it, but I am the one who gets the brunt of it."
Democrat Chrissy Houlahan is running for Costello's seat and considered one of her party's top recruits, and the moderate Sixth District was redrawn by the state Supreme Court in a way that makes it much more favorable to Democrats. Many Republicans believed that Costello represented their only realistic chance of holding the seat, though even he would have faced a difficult challenge.
Sabato's Crystal Ball, an election forecasting site, said Costello's retirement would move the district to likely Democratic. It had been rated a toss-up.
The web site City and State Pennsylvania had first reported on Costello's decision.
The Inquirer and Daily News had reported earlier this month that Costello was mulling retirement, and that he has been wavering on his political future for weeks, swinging from boasts that he could defeat Houlahan to anger over the new maps, calling them "racist," and arguing that the Democratic judges on the state Supreme Court were corrupt and should be impeached and disbarred.
A divided court overturned the state's congressional map last month, finding that it was unconstitutionally skewed to favor Republicans. The court imposed new district lines which created much more competitive districts and made several, including Costello's, more challenging for the GOP.
Costello's retirement marks the latest in a wave of departures for Philadelphia-area Republicans. Three other House Republicans from Pennsylvania aren't seeking reelection. Another, Lou Barletta, is running for Senate and one more, Tim Murphy, resigned last year. South Jersey's Frank LoBiondo also opted to retire rather than seek another term in a year that is showing signs of being a strong one for Democrats.
The seats held by Costello, LoBiondo, Allentown's Charlie Dent, and Delaware County's Pat Meehan all represent significant opportunities for Democrats, who need to gain 23 seats to take control of the House.
"Costello's exit should set off alarm bells for vulnerable House Republicans," said Evan Lukaske, a spokesman for Democrats' congressional campaign arm.
Houlahan, in a statement, thanked Costello for his service and wished him well.
Costello did leave one key question open: whether he will seek to have his name removed from the May 15 primary ballot. The timing of a decision could determine whether GOP officials get to pick a replacement, or whether the Republican nomination goes to attorney Greg McCauley, who is also running for the seat.
If Costello stays on the ballot, wins the primary and then drops out, election rules allow GOP officials to name a nominee. But if he quits before the primary, McCauley would almost certainly win the nomination and face Houlahan in the fall.
Costello's decision has infuriated Pennsylvania Republicans, especially as it arrived after the deadline for other candidates to file to run.