Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How the Recent Retirements Will Shake Things Up

Summary: As Dorgan, Dodd, and Ritter announce their plans to retire, the Democratic Party may stand to lose more races up and down the ticket

Last night it was reported that Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) will retire this year, leaving an open seat in the Roughrider State.

This was unquestionably bad news for Democrats. Dorgan was able to hold on to the seat solely based on the incumbency effect - the national Democratic Party is not very popular in North Dakota. At least it won’t be in 2010.

Two candidates have emerged to possibly run as Democrats for Dorgan’s seat: at-large Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) and MSNBC talk show host Ed Shultz. Shultz is way too liberal to be elected in North Dakota, and we’ve mentioned before how TV personalities would have a lot of difficulty running for office.

But for Democrats, the best case scenario would be a Shultz campaign and Pomeroy keeping his House seat, because that would likely turn red if he ran for Senate - and there’s no guarantee he’d win the higher office. Obviously, some Democrats disagree.

There was some light at the end of the tunnel for the Dems, though, when it was reported Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) will retire as well. Dodd was in really bad shape for a 2010 re-election and a GOP pick-up would not have been shocking. Now it will be.

Democrats have already lined-up their candidate for the Constitution State: the popular State Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal. And Blumenthal has already told the press he’s all-in, leaving little doubt that this was all planned out ahead of time.

Regardless, a Dodd loss was not inevitable, and now a Democratic loss in North Dakota may quite possibly be.

Also recently announced, Governor Bill Ritter (D-CO) may be stepping down after his term is complete. That leaves a big open-seat race in the Centennial State. However, Republicans have been campaigning in full swing already to take down the incumbent Democrat, and they have a long head start over any Democrats who would now have to step in to replace Ritter. While it could have easily been a GOP pick-up anyway, this retirement probably hurts Colorado Democrats a lot more than it helps.

Back in November, I took a look at Senate and Gubernatorial projections for this year and estimated net losses of less than 6 Senate races and less than 5 gubernatorial races for Democrats.

While these retirements don’t significantly change those figures, I think it makes the prospects for how many less a bit worse. It’s simply a bleaker picture than it was yesterday.

Nate Silver has a much more conservative estimate of Democratic losses. In a post today, he had this to say:

"If I aggregate my estimates from the individual races, I show Republicans picking up an average of 4.60 Democratic seats, but also, Democrats picking up an average of 2.65 Republican seats, for a net Republican gain of 1.95 seats…

… It also bears remembering that, although I remain quite pessimistic about what will happen to Democrats in the House, the Senate playing field is intrinsically more favorable to them. The Senators who are up for re-election this year are those who were elected in 2004 -- a good cycle for Republicans. And while Democrats were hurt by their retirements in North Dakota, Delaware, New York, Illinois and probably Colorado (they were helped by Chris Dodd's retirement in Connecticut), the Republicans have created opportunities for them with the retirements in Missouri, Ohio, New Hampshire and perhaps Florida (they were helped by Jim Bunning's retirement in Kentucky). If the 2006 senate class were up for re-election this year, Democrats would potentially face very substantial losses, but fortunately for Democrats they aren't."

Of course, 2010 is not only important because it is a likely backlash-year for the majority party, it’s also a critical election year at the state level. The State Legislatures will be redistricting their states after this year’s census, and Democrats were already at risk in those races.

With these retirements on the federal level, state Democrats may be feeling ambitious enough to run for higher office, leaving their seats open for competitive races (the Political Ripple Effect). Obviously, this isn’t a big deal per se in North Dakota (which isn’t big enough for 2 congressional districts) but it could be in Colorado and even possibly in Connecticut.

That could be very beneficial to the GOP for the new decade.

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