Dorgan to leave Senate, giving Republicans chance to win North Dakota seat

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 6, 2010; 11:42 AM

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) will not run for reelection this year, he said Tuesday, providing Republicans with a major opportunity to pick up a Senate seat in the November midterm elections.

"After a lot of thought, I have made the very difficult decision that I will not be seeking reelection in 2010," the three-term senator said in a statement. "This decision is not a reflection of any dissatisfaction with my work in the Senate, nor is it connected to a potential election contest next fall (frankly, I believe if I were to run for another term I would be reelected)."

Dorgan came to Washington in 1980 as the state's lone congressional representative. He has handily won every election since, drawing less than 60 percent only in his first Senate race in 1992.

"Senator Dorgan should be very proud of his more than 30 years of devoted service in the United States Congress and to the people of North Dakota," President Obama said in a statement.

But Dorgan was facing a potentially serious race in November against his state's popular Republican governor, John Hoeven. Senate strategists indicated that Hoeven was genuinely undecided about the race but that an open Senate seat in the Republican-leaning state -- North Dakota has not voted for a Democrat for president since 1964 -- now makes it very likely that he will run.

Dorgan is the first Democratic senator to announce his retirement in 2010, while six Republican senators, from Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri and New Hampshire, already have said they are not running for reelection this year.

Dorgan's decision is likely to have a considerable impact on the national landscape, coming less than a month after similar announcements by four House Democrats representing conservative districts. Democratic strategists continue to insist these decisions are unique to the specific lawmakers and not indicative of any broader national trend. But Dorgan's retirement complicates that argument -- the 67-year-old was on no one's retirement list at the start of this election cycle.

"This development is indicative of the difficult environment and slumping approval ratings that Democrats face as a result of their out-of-control tax-and-spend agenda in Washington, and we fully intend to capitalize on this opportunity by continuing to recruit strong candidates who can win these seats in November," said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh.

Democrats acknowledged privately that they were stunned by Dorgan's decision and called it a significant blow to their hopes of holding 60 votes in the Senate. The most likely potential recruit for Democrats is Rep. Earl Pomeroy, who replaced Dorgan in 1992 as the state's at-large representative. Reports differed Tuesday on Pomeroy's intentions, but if he did decide to make the Senate race, it would catapult his House seat to the top of Republicans' target list.

On Wednesday, MSNBC talk show host Ed Schultz said he had been approached by Merle Boucher, Minority Leader of the North Dakota House of Representatives, and asked to consider throwing his hat in the ring. The suggestion left him "flattered" but "I can't say I'm even considering it right now," he said. "I'm in a different place right now. So we're a long way from any consideration. We're a long way from any decision."

Schultz hosted a popular radio program in North Dakota for more than a decade before moving to MSNBC.

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