North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad (D) ended speculation about his political future yesterday with his announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2012. Actually, this is the second time in his career that Conrad said he was retiring from the Senate. In his original 1986 campaign, Mr. Conrad said he would not seek a second term should the federal deficit not be eradicated during his first six years in office. He went on to upset then-Sen. Mark Andrews (R) later that year.
But he kept his word, announcing in April 1992 that he would not seek a second term because the federal deficit was still in existence. As the year progressed, however, veteran Sen. Quentin Burdick (D) passed away and Conrad then entered the special election campaign to replace him for North Dakota’s other seat. He won the special just one month after Byron Dorgan succeeded him in the 1992 general election. Thus, Sen. Conrad retired, but had no break in his Senate service. Ironically, in that special election of 19 years ago, he easily defeated Republican state legislator Jack Dalrymple, the man who just assumed the Governorship upon John Hoeven’s election to the Senate.
As with the retirement of Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) during the last election cycle, the Republicans are presented with a conversion opportunity. Though the 2010 race virtually ended upon Gov. Hoeven’s campaign announcement, the Republicans are not quite in the same position this year. Since they currently hold all of the statewide elected offices with the exception of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the GOP certainly starts the open seat campaign as the favorites — but not as prohibitive favorites like they were when Hoeven was the candidate. The musical chairs will begin in earnest now that Conrad’s semi-expected announcement has been officially made.
This race now moves to ‘Lean Republican.’
In Connecticut, Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who went from being the Democratic nominee for Vice-President in 2000, to Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, to losing his own renomination battle in 2006 only to win the seat in the general election without a party, and then coming full circle to be featured as a speaker at the 2008 Republican National Convention, officially will announce his retirement today after four six-year terms.
Sen. Lieberman was at the bottom of the job approval list for 2012 incumbents, as Democrats in particular were registering highly unfavorable opinions of his performance in office during this current term. It was clear he could not return to the Democratic Party and again win their nomination, and would go no where in the general election as a Republican. Thus, his only chance to remain a senator was to again try the Independent route, but the road to victory this time appeared more fraught with peril than it did in 2006. With Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) beginning to gear up a senatorial effort, Lieberman was unlikely to attract the more moderate Democratic voter as he did last time when ultra-liberal Ned Lamont was the party nominee. Furthermore, with Republican Linda McMahon looking like she would also enter the race, thus making the contest a legitimate three-way affair, Lieberman’s chances of winning were viewed to be slim. Most believed a campaign highlighting the differences among all three of the candidates would close the senator’s opportunity window even tighter.
Without Lieberman in the race, the Democrats will assume an even stronger electoral position and will likely return the seat to their party’s column. As an open seat, rate Connecticut as ‘Likely Democratic.’
Sens. Conrad and Lieberman join Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) on the retirement list, already bringing the total of 2012 open seats to three; a very large number at this point in an election cycle.
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