Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) announced today that he won’t be seeking re-election in 2012, and chances look good that Republicans will be able to pick up the seat, helping them inch closer to a Senate majority.
There are several reasons for optimism. First, North Dakota is a safely Red State, with strong GOP majorities in both statewide seats and the state legislature, according to Real Clear Politics:
Republicans hold nine of the 10 statewide offices — their one miss is for superintendant of public instruction. Representative Earl Pomeroy, the longtime heir apparent to Conrad and Dorgan, lost his re-election campaign by nine points in 2010. And Democrats hold only 37 of 141 seats in the state legislature.
RCP also notes that the state has been trending Republican in recent years. Older North Dakota voters, who tended to swing toward Democrats, have been replaced by younger, more conservative voters in the past few election cycles. “North Dakota was one of the few states in the 2004 elections where young voters voted more heavily for President Bush than did voters over 60,” RCP reported.
Conrad was elected in 1986, and his ability to hold on to the seat in recent years was likely based heavily on that seniority. But now that the seat is up for grabs, it will be much more difficult for Democrats to retain it with a fresher-faced candidate.
Analysts say that the one Democratic candidate who may have a shot is former Rep. Earl Pomeroy, since he’s considered to be a more moderate Democrat. But since he lost his congressional re-election bid just last year, there’s doubt that he’ll be able to mount a successful Senate campaign.
Republicans, on the other hand, seem to have a bevy of strong candidates who could potentially pull off a win. The short list includes Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley.
Of that list, Kalk appears to have the head start. Even before Conrad announced he was stepping down, Kalk had expressed interest in challenging him, and he even formed an exploratory committee last week.
“Following the election of 2010, a lot of folks have reached out to me as potentially running against Sen. Conrad. Quite honestly, my wife and I are going to give this some serious thought and make a decision after the first of the year,” he said at the time.
Democrats were already facing an uphill battle next year, since only 10 Republican senators will be up for re-election, compared with 23 Democrats. So Conrad’s decision to step down is certainly cheering news for the GOP, which is now in a prime position to control both the House and the Senate.