Four Democrats seeking gubernatorial and Senate seats, including three incumbents, decided against running in 2010, which will surely launch dozens of “Democrats in disarray” stories. But a cold political calculation suggests that Democrats are probably in exactly the same electoral position today that they were yesterday, although they lose quite a bit in institutional Senate knowledge.
We knew early last evening about Byron Dorgan’s retirement. We now know that popular Republican Governor John Hoeven is expected to enter the race, effectively sealing that seat as a GOP pickup, in the same way that Mark Warner’s entry in 2008 sealed the pickup for Democrats in Virginia. I wouldn’t expect Democrats to even spend much money defending that open seat.
Late last night, news spread that Chris Dodd will not seek re-election in Connecticut. If Dorgan’s retirement was the worst possible news for Democrats, from a pure political perspective, Dodd’s retirement is the best possible news. He was damaged goods for re-election, for some reasons of his own doing, but mostly because of a series of coordinated, factually suspect smear campaigns, as well as the unfortunate situation of being thrown under the bus by the Obama Administration during the AIG bonus scandal. Regardless of the reasons why, Dodd, a good legislator with a distinguished record, wasn’t likely to come back in Connecticut without a major fight and some luck.
However, it is quite likely that the state’s popular Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, will enter the race. And that could seriously improve the chances of retaining the seat in a blue state. Public Policy Polling, which is in the field in Connecticut as we speak, tweeted last night that Blumenthal would “make the seat uber safe for Dems.” Someone probably impressed this upon Dodd, and he took one for the team.
That wasn’t all. Rayne noted yesterday that Lt. Governor John Cherry has dropped out of the Michigan governor’s race, despite being among the front-runners on the Democratic side. A bevy of replacements have been floated, but with Michigan mired in double-digit unemployment, that’s going to be a tough seat to retain for Democrats (Gov. Jennifer Granholm is termed out).
Then, in Colorado, Governor Bill Ritter abruptly announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election. Ritter was elected in 2006, but was trailing former Rep. Scott McInnis in the polls, and the political environment is just bad for incumbents, especially incumbent governors. However, Democrats have some options in this race. Andrew Romanoff, the former state Speaker of the House who was challenging Sen. Michael Bennet in a primary, could switch to this seat. Better, popular Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper could enter the race.
So, after all that, really Democrats are in pretty much the same position: demonstrably worse in ND-Sen, demonstrably better in CT-Sen, a bit worse in MI-Gov, perhaps a bit better in CO-Gov. But the timeline of these retirements, coming all at once, will further a narrative about it being a Republican year and Democrats are running away from the fight.
Meanwhile, perhaps the biggest resignation yesterday was from Florida GOP Chair Jim Greer, signaling that Charlie Crist may not survive a primary with tea party champion Marco Rubio in the state. And Republicans still have more retirements in the Senate and in the House.
I think more than anything, this signals how bad a position incumbents are in this year. And it is a shame to lose Dorgan and Dodd, who both deserved a bit better than this.