Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, made the surprise announcement today that he would not seek reelection. His retirement moves North Dakota into the “toss up” category — a blow for Democrats in a state that will be tough defend (McCain won it with 53% of the vote). Dorgan had long been worried that North Dakota Governor John Hoeven, a popular Republican, might challenge him. A Rasmussen poll last month found Hoeven beating Dorgan by 22 percentage points in a theoretical match up. The same poll found that Dorgan’s biggest worry was the health care legislation: 30% of North Dakota voters support the measure and 64% oppose it. With 10 months to go before the midterm elections, Dorgan’s retirement will surely resound with other vulnerable, particularly Red State Democrats worried about keeping their seats. Already four Blue Dogs in the House have announced their retirement and last month Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith abruptly switched parties without even warning his staff. Dorgan is the sixth ranking Democrat on the leadership team. “Besides the likelihood that Democrats will lose one more Senate seat than they thought, an unexpected, high profile Senate retirement is really demoralizing for Democrats, a huge psychological blow that could ripple certainly through the House, if not the Senate,” said Charlie Cook, editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report, which tracks congressional races.
“Representing North Dakota in the U.S. Congress for nearly 30 years has been one of the great privileges of my life.
“The work I have been able to do to expand our economy, create new opportunities in energy and water development, invent the Red River Research Corridor with cutting-edge world class research, build a stronger safety net for family farmers and much more has been a labor of love for me.
“In recent years, becoming Chairman of key Senate Committees on Energy and Water, Indian Affairs, Aviation and more has given me much greater opportunity to help our state and country.
“For the past year, I have been making plans to seek another six-year Senate term in next year’s election. Those plans included raising campaign funds and doing the organizing necessary to wage a successful campaign.
“Even as I have done that, in recent months I began to wrestle with the question of whether making a commitment to serve in the Senate seven more years (next year plus a new six-year term) was the right thing to do.
“I have been serving as an elected official in our state for many years. Beginning at age 26, I served ten years as State Tax Commissioner followed by thirty years in the U.S. Congress by the end of 2010. It has been a long and wonderful career made possible by the people of North Dakota. And I am forever grateful to them for the opportunity.
“Although I still have a passion for public service and enjoy my work in the Senate, I have other interests and I have other things I would like to pursue outside of public life. I have written two books and have an invitation from a publisher to write two more books. I would like to do some teaching and would also like to work on energy policy in the private sector.
“So, over this holiday season, I have come to the conclusion, with the support of my family, that I will not be seeking another term in the U.S. Senate in 2010. It is a hard decision to make after thirty years in the Congress, but I believe it is the right time for me to pursue these other interests.
“Let me be clear that this decision does not relate to any dissatisfaction that I have about serving in the Senate. Yes, I wish there was less rancor and more bipartisanship in the U.S. Senate these days. But still, it is a great privilege to serve and I have the utmost respect for all of the men and women with whom I serve.
“It has been a special privilege to serve with Senator Conrad and Congressman Pomeroy, who do an outstanding job for our state. And although he inherited an economy in serious trouble, I remain confident that President Obama is making the right decisions to put our country back on track.
Further, my decision has no relationship to the prospect of a difficult election contest this year. Frankly, I think if I had decided to run for another term in the Senate I would be reelected.
“But I feel that after serving 30 years, I want to make time for some other priorities. And making a commitment to serve in the Senate for the next seven years does not seem like the right decision for me.
“So, 2010 will be my last year in the Senate. I will continue to work hard for the best interests of our state and country during this coming year. We need to get the economic engine restarted and put people back to work. We need to reform our financial system to make sure that which happened to cause this deep recession will not happen again. And we need to get our fiscal and budget policies under control. The federal budget deficits are not sustainable.
“But even as we face all of these difficult issues, I am convinced that our country will rise to the challenge.
“We are a great nation. And I have a deep sense of optimism about the future of our country.”