- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2005

Freshman Sen. Mark Dayton of Minnesota, a Democrat who was ridiculed back home for closing his office because he feared a terrorist attack, announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election to a second term next year.

The retirement of a senator in a state where Republicans have been winning elections normally would boost the party’s hopes of picking up the open seat. However, some election analysts say Democrats’ prospects of retaining the Minnesota seat in 2006 are improved with Mr. Dayton out of the race.

The heir to a department-store fortune, Mr. Dayton won his seat with 48.8 percent of the vote in 2000. He has been beset with declining poll numbers and has had difficulty raising enough money for his re-election campaign.

Mr. Dayton said yesterday that he did “not believe that I am the best candidate to lead the party to victory next year.”

“I cannot stand to do the constant fund raising necessary to wage a successful campaign, and I cannot be an effective senator while also being a nearly full-time candidate,” he said.

Mr. Dayton is the first Democratic incumbent to announce that he is not seeking re-election next year, when 33 Senate seats will be at stake. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, has signaled that he will not seek re-election next year, though he has not formally announced any decision.

Mr. Dayton, who has a 90 percent liberal voting record, is one of three Democratic senators who had been considered beatable next year, said veteran elections analyst Stuart Rothenberg. The other two are Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Bill Nelson of Florida.

Mr. Rothenberg also puts three Republican Senate seats on his vulnerable list: those held by Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and, if Mr. Frist retires, his open seat in Tennessee.

“Any incumbent usually has an advantage over an open seat, but Dayton was clearly going to be vulnerable, and Republicans were optimistic about knocking him off,” Mr. Rothenberg said.

Jennifer Duffy, a Senate election specialist at the Cook Political Report, said Mr. Dayton’s decision “actually improves the Democrats’ chances a little bit because nobody’s going to have the vulnerabilities that Dayton did.”

“This is somebody who doesn’t have a fund-raising base, who does not like to raise money, and found the prospect of raising $10 million to $12 million fairly daunting,” she said. “What voters know him best for was his decision to close his office last fall.”

It was that decision that made embarrassing national headlines for Mr. Dayton and widespread rebuke on talk radio shows across the country, as well as back home where his state’s largest newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, called him a “flake” and a “little chicken.”

Democrats yesterday publicly praised Mr. Dayton’s announcement.

“He was in a tough race and did the honorable thing by putting the needs of his constituents ahead of the demands of a re-election campaign,” said Phil Singer, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Republicans were cheered by the news. “An open seat is always more easily won than taking out an incumbent. We feel this is a setback for the Democrats and we’re optimistic about taking the seat,” said Brian Nick, press secretary for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Republicans pointed to Rep. Mark Kennedy as a likely candidate, while Mike Hatch, Minnesota’s attorney general, was considered the leading candidate on the Democratic side.


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