- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan announced Tuesday he will not seek re-election this year, becoming the first elected Democratic senator to say he will retire — and creating an opening for Republicans this fall.

The three-term senator from North Dakota, who also served 12 years in the House, said he thinks he would have won re-election, but has spent enough time in government and doesn’t want to commit to another full six-year term.

Gov. John Hoeven, a Republican, has been considering a run against Mr. Dorgan, and recent polls had shown him easily defeating the senator.

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“Although I still have a passion for public service and enjoy my work in the Senate, I have other interests and I have other things I would like to pursue outside of public life,” Mr. Dorgan said in a statement released by his office. He pointed to several books he wants to complete and said he wants to teach and work on energy policy in the private sector.

North Dakota’s two senators and lone member of the House are all Democrats, but the state votes Republican in presidential elections and Mr. Hoeven cruised to a third term as governor in 2008.

Sen. Mel Martinez, Florida Republican, already has resigned and five long-serving Republican senators have announced they will retire at the end of this Congress, but Mr. Dorgan is the first elected Democrat to do so.

Democratic Sens. Roland W. Burris of Illinois and Ted Kaufman of Delaware have also said they will not seek re-election, but they were both appointed short-term to fill vacancies left when President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. were elected in 2008.

Defending Mr. Dorgan’s seat will put added pressure on Democrats, and Republicans were salivating at the opportunity.

“This development is indicative of the difficult environment and slumping approval ratings that Democrats face as a result of their out of control tax-and-spend agenda in Washington, and we fully intend to capitalize on this opportunity by continuing to recruit strong candidates who can win these seats in November,” said Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Duane Sand, Republicans’ failed nominee for North Dakota’s House seat in 2004 and 2008, already had announced he will run for the Republican nomination for the seat. Polls had shown Mr. Dorgan besting Mr. Sand.

Mr. Dorgan has staked out a populist position during his time in Washington, and even though he’s one of his party’s Senate leaders as chairman of their Policy Committee, he has broken with Democrats on some key issues.

He voted with his party to pass a health care bill last year, but has urged Democrats to put off work on a greenhouse-gas emissions curbing bill and instead focus on a bipartisan energy bill. He also has sounded the alarm over burgeoning debt.

Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota’s senior Democratic senator, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Mr. Dorgan “on a short list of future Cabinet nominees to the Obama administration.”

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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