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Democratic retirements point to GOP momentum

By Ben Pershing
While most Americans spent the holidays relaxing with their families and recharging for 2010, a trio of veteran Democrats apparently had visions of retirement dancing in their heads.

In quick succession Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, the news came forth that Byron Dorgan, Bill Ritter and Chris Dodd will announce that they are not running for reelection in 2010. All three men faced difficult races, and their decisions provided more evidence a Republican wave may be building that Democrats are scurrying to avoid. But the net gain from the revelations isn't so clear, for while Dorgan's move increased the odds of a GOP pickup in North Dakota, Dodd's was actually bad news for Republicans in Connecticut. And Ritter's decision may also give Democrats a better chance than they otherwise would have had in that contest.

The Fix, a very busy man the last 15 hours, says "word of Dodd's retirement plans comes after months of speculation about his political future, his faltering poll numbers and a growing sense among the Democratic establishment that he could not win a sixth term in the Senate." The Hartford Courant reports: "For most of his long political career, Dodd enjoyed strong support and only token opposition. ... But Dodd's public approval ratings began slipping when he embarked on a long-shot run for president in 2008. His decision to move his family to Iowa, where he was competing in the caucus, annoyed many Connecticut residents. His political problems were later compounded by revelations that he had received a VIP loan from Countrywide Financial, a now-defunct subprime lender." Dodd's own campaign poll from mid-December showed him tied with Linda McMahon and trailing Rob Simmons by 5 points, and other surveys showed the incumbent in much worse shape. Richard Blumenthal has already said he will enter the race, and as the Associated Press puts it, Blumenthal is "is seen as one of the state's most popular politicians." The New York Times says "party officials had been privately hoping" Dodd would step aside.

Dorgan's decision, meanwhile, "sends tidal waves into North Dakota and national politics, creating a potentially dizzying game of musical chairs among the state's top leadership positions," writes the Fargo Forum. While Dorgan's future didn't appear quite as stark as Dodd's did, Dorgan did face a very tough potential matchup if John Hoeven decided to jump into the contest. "Hoeven may be more willing to jump into a contest now that Dorgan, who also has highly favorable poll numbers, has announced he will step aside," reports Hotline On Call. Charlie Cook writes that the decision "hands Republicans one of their best opportunities to pick up a Democratic-held seat in 2010. Roll Call says Dorgan's move "caught his fellow Senate Democratic leaders by surprise Tuesday," as he made up his mind before giving his colleagues a chance to talk him out of it.

In Colorado, "Ritter, elected in a landslide in 2006, had seen his political fortunes decline in the intervening years, and faced an extremely difficult re-election race against former Rep. Scott McInnis (R) in November," CQ Politics writes. Several Democrats could choose to step in to take Ritter's place on the ballot, including Ken Salazar, whom some in the state hope will abandon his job in President Obama's cabinet to make a run for the statehouse. "Ritter told other Democrats the job was taking a toll on his family and he could not be successful as a father and husband while running for governor," the Denver Post reports, though the paper notes that Republicans say "Ritter's sluggish polling numbers, added to the troubles Democrats are having on the national stage, posed an uphill battle for the incumbent." Either way, the news marks a precipitous fall for Ritter; The Fix observes that he "was elected in a landslide in 2006, and his state's capital, Denver, hosted the Democratic National Convention and the presidential nomination of Sen. Barack Obama in 2008."

For good measure, Politico throws in a fourth Democrat -- John Cherry, the Michigan lieutenant governor who decided to end his gubernatorial bid -- and wraps them together to say their decisions "offered an unnerving glimpse at the perilous election year ahead. ... Democrats are now facing their bleakest election outlook in years--and the very real possibility the party will lose its 60-40 Senate supermajority after the November elections. ... There is some silver lining in the Democratic cloud: Ritter, Cherry and Dodd were all struggling to gain traction and their departures could actually increase Democratic chances of holding those offices." Mark Blumenthal provides another ray of hope to the majority party, crunching the poll numbers to argue that reports of a "liberal revolt" against Obama and his agenda are overblown.

The Washington Times looks at GOP recruiting and finds "conservative and Republican candidates who sat on the sidelines during the Democratic electoral surges of 2006 and 2008 are jumping into the 2010 midterm elections with renewed confidence after President Obama's first year in office." The Los Angeles Times examines swing states, concluding, "As they seek to retain control of Congress, Democrats are finding that voter sentiments that gave the party its victory margins here and in other swing states in 2008 could turn against them for 2010. Voters as a whole, rattled by continuing economic problems, tell pollsters they are disillusioned with incumbents -- including Obama and congressional Democrats." And in the "Really?" department, the New York Times reports that Harold Ford Jr. -- former House member and Senate candidate from Tennessee -- may challenge Kirsten Gillibrand in the New York Senate Democratic primary.

Off the campaign trail, Obama "said Tuesday that U.S. intelligence agencies could have prevented the attempt to bomb an airliner on Christmas Day, and used a grim and forceful White House statement to demand rapid improvements in efforts to protect Americans from attack," the Washington Post reports. Obama's "remarks capped a day in which the president, facing heat from Republicans over what they paint as a lackluster initial response, summoned most of his cabinet and security team to meetings on counterterrorism in an effort to show his administration's engagement on the issue," the Wall Street Journal writes. Thomas Friedman says the best way to prevent future terrorist attacks is for Muslim countries and communities to self-police: "Every faith has its violent extreme. The West is not immune. It's all about how the center deals with it. Does it tolerate it, isolate it or shame it? The jihadists are a security problem for our system. But they are a political and moral problem for the Arab-Muslim system. If they won't address this problem for us, I truly hope they will do it for themselves."

By Ben Pershing  |  January 6, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Rundown  
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