Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bill Riitter

Democrats Flee the Battleground

In a political jaw-dropper, on Tuesday we learned:

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) announced this evening that he’s retiring at the end of his term, a shocking development that threatens Democratic control of his Senate seat next year.Dorgan was up for re-election in 2010, but the third-term senator wasn’t facing any strong Republican opposition– but was facing the growing possibility of a serious challenge from popular Gov. John Hoeven.

It seems that Dorgan suddenly found a deep desire to pursue “other interests.” That is how it goes when fund raising and polls point to a dogfight for the three-term senator. The Cook Political Report explains:

Republican Gov. John Hoeven has spent the last few months contemplating a challenge to the incumbent. And, now that the seat is open, Hoeven may find the race too good to pass up. The Governor is arguably the most popular politician in the state. . . Even if Hoeven were to forego the race for some reason, it is likely that Republicans will field a very strong contender. Democrats, though, will have a tougher time fielding a strong candidate, especially if Hoeven runs. Party leaders are likely to put significant pressure on At-Large Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy to run, but he may not be an ideal candidate. The current political environment has taken a toll on Pomeroy’s poll numbers and he has struggled to win re-election in past years when the political landscape tilted has been against Democrats, making a Senate bid especially risky.

The bottom line, according to Cook: this ”creates a significant opening for Republicans and greatly diminishes the odds that Democrats can hold their 60-seat supermajority after the 2010 elections.”

But the impact may extend well beyond North Dakota. Imagine what must be running through the minds of  potential GOP contenders in other states (e.g., Rep. Peter King in New York or maybe a Rep. Mike Pence in Indiana): “Wow, we have them on the run! Should I throw my hat into the ring too?” And Democrats who will now have to raise money and work to hold an open seat in North Dakota cannot but be panicked that others may decide to pack it in as well. As for Scott Brown in Massachusetts, he must be thinking today that perhaps there is something afoot, the beginnings of a fundamental shift in the political landscape. (His opponent is not exactly an exemplar of confidence and policy know how, as she lamely retreats to the “Bush-Cheney economic policies” in her halfhearted defense of Gov. Deval Patrick – who may himself be another Democratic casualty.) And then we can’t forget about or miss the delicious political karma involving Arlen Specter — who switched parties just in time to see a tidal wave building against his new best friends.

All of this follows word that the Democratic front runner has dropped out of the gubernatorial race in Michigan and that Colorado’s Democratic Governor Bill Riitter isn’t going to run for re-election. (“Ritter faced economic uncertainty during his 3 years in office, and most polls show his approval rating near parity.”) Almost as if it were a trend, huh? (The New York Times is also reporting that Chris Dodd has decided not to run, which is the first good-news retirement for Democrats, removing a hobbled Dodd from a Blue state race that might otherwise be winnable without the scandal-plagued incumbent.)

Like sports, politics is about momentum, confidence, and support of the home-town fans. Right now the Democrats are lagging in all three respects. And if they keep up the secret health-care deal-making, they are going to add some self-inflicted injuries to their list of woes.

In a political jaw-dropper, on Tuesday we learned:

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) announced this evening that he’s retiring at the end of his term, a shocking development that threatens Democratic control of his Senate seat next year.Dorgan was up for re-election in 2010, but the third-term senator wasn’t facing any strong Republican opposition– but was facing the growing possibility of a serious challenge from popular Gov. John Hoeven.

It seems that Dorgan suddenly found a deep desire to pursue “other interests.” That is how it goes when fund raising and polls point to a dogfight for the three-term senator. The Cook Political Report explains:

Republican Gov. John Hoeven has spent the last few months contemplating a challenge to the incumbent. And, now that the seat is open, Hoeven may find the race too good to pass up. The Governor is arguably the most popular politician in the state. . . Even if Hoeven were to forego the race for some reason, it is likely that Republicans will field a very strong contender. Democrats, though, will have a tougher time fielding a strong candidate, especially if Hoeven runs. Party leaders are likely to put significant pressure on At-Large Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy to run, but he may not be an ideal candidate. The current political environment has taken a toll on Pomeroy’s poll numbers and he has struggled to win re-election in past years when the political landscape tilted has been against Democrats, making a Senate bid especially risky.

The bottom line, according to Cook: this ”creates a significant opening for Republicans and greatly diminishes the odds that Democrats can hold their 60-seat supermajority after the 2010 elections.”

But the impact may extend well beyond North Dakota. Imagine what must be running through the minds of  potential GOP contenders in other states (e.g., Rep. Peter King in New York or maybe a Rep. Mike Pence in Indiana): “Wow, we have them on the run! Should I throw my hat into the ring too?” And Democrats who will now have to raise money and work to hold an open seat in North Dakota cannot but be panicked that others may decide to pack it in as well. As for Scott Brown in Massachusetts, he must be thinking today that perhaps there is something afoot, the beginnings of a fundamental shift in the political landscape. (His opponent is not exactly an exemplar of confidence and policy know how, as she lamely retreats to the “Bush-Cheney economic policies” in her halfhearted defense of Gov. Deval Patrick – who may himself be another Democratic casualty.) And then we can’t forget about or miss the delicious political karma involving Arlen Specter — who switched parties just in time to see a tidal wave building against his new best friends.

All of this follows word that the Democratic front runner has dropped out of the gubernatorial race in Michigan and that Colorado’s Democratic Governor Bill Riitter isn’t going to run for re-election. (“Ritter faced economic uncertainty during his 3 years in office, and most polls show his approval rating near parity.”) Almost as if it were a trend, huh? (The New York Times is also reporting that Chris Dodd has decided not to run, which is the first good-news retirement for Democrats, removing a hobbled Dodd from a Blue state race that might otherwise be winnable without the scandal-plagued incumbent.)

Like sports, politics is about momentum, confidence, and support of the home-town fans. Right now the Democrats are lagging in all three respects. And if they keep up the secret health-care deal-making, they are going to add some self-inflicted injuries to their list of woes.

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