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Sen. Byron Dorgan to Retire, Democrat's Seat Up for Grabs

4 years ago
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Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) shocked political watchers Tuesday night with the announcement that he will not seek a fourth Senate term in 2010.

The low-key Democrat has represented North Dakota for 30 years in Congress and now sits on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. However, recent poll numbers suggested Dorgan's re-election could prove much more difficult than anticipated. A Rasmussen poll released in December startled his fellow Democrats when it showed Dorgan trailing North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, a Republican, by more than 20 percentage points, despite the fact that Hoeven has not yet said he'll run for the seat. A November Zogby poll showed Hoeven leading Dorgan by 19 points.

"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 ... other interests," Dorgan said in a lengthy statement released by his office late Tuesday.

"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," he continued. "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."

Dorgan added that his decision had nothing to do with the re-election battle he might face. "My decision has no relationship to the prospect of a difficult election contest this year," he said. "Frankly, I think if I had decided to run for another term in the Senate I would be re-elected."

Dorgan's decision puts the Senate seat up for grabs in a state where Republicans have fared far better than Democrats in recent statewide elections. Although North Dakota's other senator, Kent Conrad, is also a Democrat, John McCain carried the state by nearly nine points in 2008 and George W. Bush won it by 27 points in 2004.

Dorgan is the first non-appointed Senate Democrat to decide to retire in 2010 rather than seek reelection. His announcement is sure to focus attention on other Democratic incumbents, like Sen. Chris Dodd, who have so far insisted they are running for reelection, but whose dismal poll numbers show a difficult road to victory.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele said Tuesday night that while Dorgan is the first Democrat to announce his retirement, "I predict he will not be the last."

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