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Dorgan Announces Retirement

Updated: Jan. 5, 8:04 p.m.

Third-term Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) dropped a bombshell Tuesday evening when he announced he will retire rather than run for re-election in 2010, ending a political career that began in the 1960s.

The departure of the influential Senator, who chairs the Indian Affairs Committee and serves in leadership as head of the Democratic Policy Committee, gives Republicans a major opportunity to take the seat in the GOP-leaning state. The party had been trying to woo Gov. John Hoeven into challenging Dorgan and this could cement his candidacy.

In a statement, Dorgan said he came to the decision over the holidays. “It is a hard decision to make after thirty years in the Congress, but I believe it is the right time for me to pursue … other interests,— he said.

“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,— he continued. “I have written two books and have an invitation from a publisher to write two more books. I would like to do some teaching and would also like to work on energy policy in the private sector.—

He also made a point of underscoring that his decision “has no relationship to the prospect of a difficult election contest this year.—

“Frankly, I think if I had decided to run for another term in the Senate I would be re-elected,— he said.

Dorgan is the first elected Democratic Senator this cycle to announce his retirement.

Four Republican Senators are not seeking re-election this year: Kit Bond (Mo.), Jim Bunning (Ky.), Judd Gregg (N.H.) and George Voinovich (Ohio). Two Democratic Senators who were appointed last year are also not running in November.

Dorgan is the No. 5 Senate Democratic leader as chair of the Policy Committee. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appoints the position.

In recent years, Dorgan’s ambitions for a higher leadership position appeared to be eclipsed by other Democrats, such as Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) or Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who are the two most likely candidates for Majority Leader if Reid were to lose his re-election bid this year. Dorgan’s position as Policy Chairman became less influential when his good friend, former Democratic leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), lost his seat in 2004.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh said in a statement that Republicans “fully intend to capitalize on this opportunity.—

“North Dakota was always going to be a competitive seat for the Democrats to defend, and Senator Dorgan’s retirement now provides us with another excellent pick-up opportunity,— he said. “This development is indicative of the difficult environment and slumping approval ratings that Democrats face.—

Democrats do not have a deep bench in the state. Nine-term At-Large Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D) is one potential recruit. Calls to his Congressional office were not answered Tuesday evening.

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